Elder Neil L. Andersen walked the length of the hotel ballroom in Bangkok, Thailand, repeatedly and respectfully acknowledged the members in the capacity congregation.
With each greeting, Elder Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles felt the goodness of the Thai Latter-day Saints and could not shake the feeling that in the land of 63 million people, they are a “light on the hill.”
The Jan. 12 meeting was part of a recent assignment for Elder Andersen in Thailand, known as the “Land of Smiles.”
In addition to the member meeting, he also met with young single adults and missionaries, testifying of Jesus Christ and speaking about the temple under construction in the nation. He was accompanied by Elder David F. Evans, Asia Area president.
Missionaries arrived in Thailand in 1968; today the country is home to more than 22,000 Church members in four stakes and two districts.
The Bangkok Thailand Temple, the first for the nation, was announced in April 2015 and will serve members in Thailand and all of Southeast Asia. Before the temple was announced, the nearest Church temple was in Hong Kong, more than 1,000 miles away.
Elder Andersen called the faithful members, whose sacrifices and devotion helped prepare Thailand for the temple, remarkable. “They are all excited about their temple,” he said.
Elder Wisit Khanakham, an Area Seventy, echoed Elder Andersen’s remarks, saying members feel “absolutely excited, delighted and so happy” about the new temple.
Born in Ban Pong, Elder Khanakham is from a very small village mostly unknown to the public, with no electricity or water supply readily available.
When Protestant missionaries came to the area, villagers were unkind to the outsiders and caused Elder Khanakham to question. His seeking led to his conversion to the Church.
The majority of the Latter-day Saint population in Thailand are converts like him, Elder Khanakham said, “except a few second and third generations of the local Church pioneers.”
He said Elder Andersen showed deep understanding of the Thai Latter-day Saints. In a nation where Christians are in the vast minority, Elder Andersen asked Church members “to deepen their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“His teachings inspired all to do even more to follow our Savior,” Elder Khanakham said.
President Suchat Chaichana, who has served as the Bangkok Thailand Stake president for the past five years, called Elder Andersen’s visit significant. As a local Church leader, he said he has worried about staffing the completed temple. But Elder Andersen’s message became their comfort, he said.
Elder Andersen promised the leaders that they would have the numbers needed if “we prepare ourselves to be worthy for the temple blessings.”
President Chaichana said he was touched that Elder Andersen made the effort to personally greet his family and then spoke of watching the Apostle show respect to all gathered for the member meeting.
A member told President Chaichana that, after returning to Church activity seven years ago, she had always wanted to greet an Apostle. Sitting in the back of the room, she was disappointed when it was announced at the end of the meeting that the members should stay in their seats while Elder Andersen left.
But instead of leaving, Elder Andersen walked row by row, filling her “heart with joy.”
President Chaichana said everyone in the room learned from Elder Andersen’s example how to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Bangkok Thailand North Stake President Sathit Kaivalvatana said Elder Andersen reminded the members that their faith matters.
“We are a light in the world,” he said. “We have to shine.”