BOUNTIFUL, Utah — Mani Seangsuwan learned to be patient, to sacrifice and to serve as a Buddhist monk.
As a Mormon he learned to hope.
He found deep joy.
He discovered why he's here on earth.
"For two years, I studied Buddhism in the Wats in Bangkok," Seangsuwan writes in his book "Monk to Missionary." "I learned sacred techniques towards self-mastery. I was taught to gain control over every thought, action and feeling that I ever encountered …
"As a monk, I was to teach self-mastery and show by example what true happiness was.
"However, despite the deep love that I had for the Thai people and Thai culture, I was haunted with feelings that there was still something missing in my life," Seangsuwan continued.
He actually became a monk in an effort to find the answers that were eluding him.
Then an LDS serviceman introduced the idea of Christianity to Seanguswan and told him about young men in white shirts and ties who teach Christian beliefs.
Three months later, he came across a pair of Baptist missionaries on a Bangkok street corner handing out literature.
"I couldn't believe what they were saying about Jesus Christ. They said he was our Savior and that we needed to repent and become like him."
Seangsuwan walked right up to the missionaries to hear more.
"I think I scared him," he writes. "Can you image how you would feel if a Buddhist monk in the orange robe came up to you, knowing that what you were doing was contradictory to Thai culture?"
He took a pamphlet and returned to the monastery where he cautiously read it. He sent for a simplified Bible and began studying it despite the dismay it caused the other monks.
His reading convinced him he was not meant to remain a monk, and he left the monastery.
Some time later, he found Mormon missionaries preaching near his bus stop.
Though he was intrigued and interested in hearing more, Seangsuwan was also acutely aware that it was too public a place to be seen talking together.
"I told the missionaries that I wanted to speak with them, but we had to walk away where others weren't staring at us … As we walked the missionaries began to tell me the most wonderful story that I had ever heard," he said. "The gospel was something that made so much sense to me that I wished that my family and friends and even the people around me could hear what I was learning."
Seangsuwan pursued a relationship with the missionaries, talking quietly on the bus and later meeting them in a park near the home where he was living with a cousin.
Six months later, he was baptized, knowing full well that he would offend his family and appear to be denying his culture and the Thai way of life.
"I thought about all of those things," he said. "It was time for me to do something right."
Seangsuwan was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 21, 1973, in a tub on a roof built to collect rainwater.
His mother was disappointed in his choice but did not fight him. The rest of his family were appalled.
Nevertheless, he joined the tiny Thonburi Branch at 25, and at 26 he put in papers for a mission. He was called to serve in the Bangkok Thailand Mission. He was thrilled and scared. He knew a mission in his homeland would be very hard. He would be facing people who had only known him as a monk, challenging their core beliefs.
"I knew they thought I had betrayed them," he said.
Ironically, his training as a monk helped him remain peaceful despite the insults and hateful persecution heaped upon him.
He served that mission well. Because he understood the culture, he could help educate other missionaries and save them from making simple mistakes that could greatly offend the Thai people. (In the early years, a missionary went to prison for sitting on a statue of Buddha as he posed for a picture.)Comment on this story
He later married in the temple and raised a family that includes two sons who've served missions. He translated General Conference speeches for 20 years, served as a temple ordinance worker in the Ogden temple and then served another Thai mission with his wife. (There were 200 members when Seangsuwan joined the church. There were 15,000 when he and his wife returned.)
Living today in Utah at 62, Seangsuwan plans to return to Thailand for a family history/proselyting senior mission as soon as their papers clear.
After that, he and Nadda will probably retire in his homeland and do what they can to grow the church.
"I came here with $25 to go to school. My Heavenly Father helped me. Now the plan for me is to go back and serve him," Seangsuwan said.
"We need to repay the Lord for our many blessings," he said.