“My father was killed when I was four years old. He went to help a young woman who was being assaulted by two men, and he was fatally stabbed. I missed my dad so much that I always had this hurt inside me. But when I was thirteen years old, I met the Latter-day Saint missionaries and that hurt was healed when I discovered the love of a Father I could talk to, a Father who would listen to me, a Father who would comfort me. And through the plan of salvation, I learned that I could meet my dad again some day.”
As a young teenager, Sister Ruchirawan Phonphongrat of Bangkok, Thailand, came into contact with the missionaries when she attended an English language class they offered. Following her first class, she was invited to attend a Mutual activity. “After an enjoyable evening, one of the members offered a prayer. As he prayed, I had the feeling that Someone was listening. I had a warm feeling inside, as though I were being hugged. It was that prayer and the accompanying feeling that began to heal the hurt of missing my dad. I decided that I wanted to be able to pray, to have this feeling often. So I asked the missionaries if it would be possible for me to learn the gospel and learn how to pray.
“They gave me the discussions over the next two months, and then I was baptized. I remember that when they taught me how to pray I was so excited that I would be able to pray by myself. I went to my room that night, closed the door, and prayed to Heavenly Father to know if what the missionaries had told me was true. Heavenly Father did hear me, and that’s when I found out that he does care for me. I was so very, very happy. Early next morning, on my way to school, I stopped by the apartment building where the missionaries lived on the top floor. I shouted up to their apartment window, ‘Elders! I know there is a Jesus. I know that Heavenly Father lives!’
“I told my mother that I had found a way I could meet my dad again and that we could be together again as a family some day. My mom really loved my dad, and she had never remarried. She knew that I always aimed for the best, in school or in whatever I did. Although she was an active Buddhist, she knew that the Church would be the best for me, too.”
Sister Phonphongrat completed her schooling and then majored in political science at Chiang Mai University in northern Thailand. She also learned to speak better English during her university years.
Her mother expected her to continue with her university education and earn a master’s degree. “But I told her I wanted to go on a mission. She said that I couldn’t, that I mustn’t sacrifice the years I should be in school. I prayed very hard that my mom would let me go. And then I learned something very important.
“You see, we had a young man living in our home. He was about twenty-five years old and was like an adopted son to my mother. His health was poor, and my mother took care of him and supported him when he served for a time as a Buddhist monk. I was very jealous of him and of the attention my mother paid him. I wouldn’t even sit at the same table with him.
“When I prayed to Heavenly Father for my mom to let me go on a mission, I received the answer that first I would have to show her that I loved everyone, even the young man I was so jealous of. It was a very hard thing for me to accept. But the next morning when I saw the young man, I waved at him and said ‘Hi!’ It was the first word I had said to him in seven years. When I turned to face my mother, she had tears in her eyes. I knew then that everything would be all right. I told her that I really wanted to go on a mission and that her support was most important. I really appreciate all that my mother has done for me.”
Returning from serving in the Thailand Mission, Sister Phonphongrat worked for a publishing company for five years. But then she began to feel that she wanted to do something to serve others more. She applied for a job in the Phanat-Nikhom refugee camp in Cholburi, which prepares refugees from Southeast Asia for a new life. Some of these refugees have sponsors in the United States and need to learn American customs and culture.
“The camp administrator wanted to hire someone who knew the English language well,” she recalls. “When I went for an interview, I told them that my English wasn’t very good, but that I knew about American culture. I said that I wanted the refugees most of all to know that I loved them, that they were important, and that they were children of God. The interviewer looked at me and asked, ‘What are you? A Mormon?’ But I got the job.”
Refugees are not Sister Phonphongrat’s only pupils. She has taught both seminary and institute classes. “As a seminary student I learned the importance of keeping a journal and studying the scriptures,” she recalls. “I always write out the scriptures I want to remember and use them to guide me in my daily life.”
Since her baptism, Sister Phonphongrat has received her temple endowment and patriarchal blessing. Both experiences have been sources of great strength for her. “They are something I can refer to, something I can get strength from. It used to bother me that I wasn’t married, but now I know I have to live the commandments, be active in the Church, and live the gospel principles as best I can. If I do, everything will be all right. I feel I have a work to do.”