Pornchai Juntratip: Spiritually Prepared


Pornchai Juntratip carefully walks into the room and senses the location of his visitor. He smiles, brings the palms of his hands together, bows his head, and offers the traditional Thai greeting: “Sawat dee khrap.”

Brother Juntratip is a slim, delicate-looking man whose youthful face belies his forty-six years. Visitors sense an ethereal quality about Brother Juntratip, who has been described as “a man without guile, untouched by worldly influences.” A Church translator in his native city of Bangkok, Thailand, Brother Juntratip has achieved much in his life despite losing his sight in his teenage years.

“I was about eight or nine years old when I lost the sight in my right eye. But it wasn’t until I looked through binoculars that I realized I could see only through my left eye. I lost the use of that eye when I was about fourteen years old. Now I can see only the difference between light and dark.”

But having lost the ability to see with his eyes, Brother Juntratip has been able to develop the ability to see with the Spirit.

“I was in my late twenties when I first met the Latter-day Saint missionaries. They were bicycling by the house one day and saw me. They stopped and introduced themselves and asked if I had ever heard of the Church. When I said no, they told me about Joseph Smith and the First Vision.

“From what they told me, I felt that Joseph Smith was a good man who had done nothing wrong. At their suggestion, I knelt and prayed to Heavenly Father to know if what they had told me was true. When I got up from my knees, I had this soft, warm feeling down my spine.”

The elders arranged to come again, this time bringing Braille editions of the Book of Mormon and The Articles of Faith by Elder James E. Talmage—both in English.

But Pornchai says he had been prepared for this moment. His father, a bank clerk, started teaching him English when Pornchai was nine years old. When he was ten, he began working with a tutor. Later, he enrolled in a four-year high school correspondence course offered by a college for the blind in the United States. He had completed the course and received an American high school diploma shortly before the missionaries stopped to talk to him.

“When I look back on those years, I realize that everything fitted into place,” says Brother Juntratip. “Not only was I able to read the books the missionaries gave me, but I think I was also prepared spiritually to receive the gospel message.

“I grew up observing the customs of two religions. Like most Thais, I was raised a Buddhist. My parents, being of Chinese descent, would observe Chinese religious customs, such as the new-year festival, the ancestral festival, and the new-moon festival.

“But I had read of Jesus Christ, and as a small boy—a long, long time ago—I had watched movies in which the Lord was depicted, like The Ten Commandments and The Robe. And I believed in God. I told myself that there must be a God, because if there were no God, who created the universe and all the good and beautiful things in it? There had to be an omnipotent Being.”

Brother Juntratip was baptized on 6 December 1976, at the age of twenty-eight.

By then, his parents had died, but he faced opposition from his two younger brothers. “They were university-trained engineers, and their only religion was materialism. They couldn’t understand what I was doing.”

Three years later, they opposed his decision to attend Brigham Young University—Hawaii Campus. “My brothers were sure I’d fail,” recalls Brother Juntratip, “and they didn’t want the embarrassment of having to bring me home.” To try to keep him from going, his brothers took control of a piece of property his mother had left him. He had planned to sell the property to acquire money for college expenses. But his brothers said they would hold the property so that if he failed, they could sell it and use the money to bring him home.

But Brother Juntratip still went ahead with his plans and enrolled at BYU—Hawaii. He wrote to an airline company asking them to let him fly half-fare. They responded by giving him a free ticket.

Pornchai studied English literature at the university, taping the lectures and also listening to taped versions of the study text. He supported himself by transcribing oral history tapes.

He graduated in December 1983 and then entered BYU at Provo, Utah, for graduate work in English literature. “Because I did well while in college in Hawaii, my brothers let me have the money from the property sale to pay my way to Utah,” says Brother Juntratip. “I had to give so much time to my studies that I couldn’t work to support myself, but luckily I was awarded a scholarship. I received my master’s degree in June 1986 and returned to Thailand.”

For seven months after returning to Thailand, Brother Juntratip taught students in his home. Then he was offered a position as translator for the Church.

“I had been praying that I would find employment that would fit my particular circumstances, and the translation job does that. I translate seminary and institute student manuals into Thai.”

At first, Brother Juntratip hired someone to read the English text to him. He would dictate the Thai translation into a tape recorder, and the tapes would then be transcribed. These last two steps were eliminated when he taught himself to use a Thai-language typewriter. Later, he replaced the typewriter with a computer, making revisions and corrections easier. In addition, he now receives a taped version of the original English text.

Brother Juntratip met his wife, Kwanjai, a couple of years after his return from BYU. She had served a mission in Thailand.

The Juntratips were sealed in the Manila Philippines Temple in June 1990 by the temple president, Floyd Hogan, who had been Kwanjai’s mission president. Their son, Pituporn, was born in August 1991. “His name means patriarchal blessing,” explains Brother Juntratip. “We hope he grows up to be a good missionary like his mother.

“I remember that when the missionaries presented the discussions to me, I felt the gospel message they taught me was true, was good,” he says. “By striving to live my life according to the gospel, I have come to know for a certainty that it is true and it is good.”

[photos] Photography by Winai Watanawongworakula and Surakkhaa Chaimongkhon

[photo] Holding his son, Pituporn, Pornchai Juntratip stands next to a fast-food cart operated by his wife. Sister Juntratip, left, sells refreshments to employees of some nearby companies.

[photos] Using a computer, Brother Pornchai Juntratip translates study material for Thai seminary and institute students. He listens to English audio tapes sent from Salt Lake City and then enters his translation into the computer. Far right, top: Brother and Sister Juntratip with their son, Pituporn.