Nearly 50 years after Mormons opened small
churches here converting Buddhists, animists and other Thais, they
have now announced plans to construct their first big temple in
Thailand, enabling their families to be "sealed" together for
eternity, posthumous weddings for dead ancestors and other "highest

The Mormons' nearest Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS)
is in Hong Kong, about 1,000 miles northeast of Bangkok.

Over the years, Mormons have converted more and more people in
Thailand, prompting LDS President Thomas S. Monson's announcement.

"The Bangkok Thailand Temple will be the first in this Asian nation,"
LDS said in a statement on April 5 from their Salt Lake City, Utah

"It may be some time before an exact location, construction schedule,
dates for groundbreaking, etc. are provided," LDS public affairs
officer Karlie Brand replied when asked for details.

"Some members speculate that the Church office building on New
Petchaburi Road in Bangkok, acquired by the Church in 2008, may be
reconstructed as a multi-purpose Church building similar to the temple
in Hong Kong," said Idaho-based Rick Satterfield who closely monitors

The Bangkok building already shelters most of the LDS's main offices,
including their Bangkok mission and charities, Mr. Satterfield said on
his website, LDS Church Temples.

Mormon temples are not used for regular Sunday worship or school.
Those events are held in smaller chapels.

The much larger temples admit only Mormons recommended by clergy.

LDS's temples are the only place where Mormons' dead ancestors can be
posthumously baptized, married or blessed through sacraments known as

"Baptism and eternal marriage can be performed in behalf of those who
have died," according to the official LDS website, Mormon Newsroom.

"People who died without receiving essential ordinances -- such as
baptism and confirmation, the endowment, and sealing -- have the
opportunity to accept these ordinances," according to a Mormon
Newsroom report titled, "Mormon Temple Rituals: What Happens in LDS

Posthumously baptizing dead ancestors who were not Mormons "is a very
important part of the function of the Mormon temple, it's to do the
work for our forefathers, our deceased ancestors," Elder William R.
Walker said an LDS promotional video on the Mormon Newsroom website.

Mormons who are alive can have their marriage "sealed" in a temple.

"Husbands and wives are sealed to each other, and children are sealed
to their parents, in eternal families," LDS said.

Here in Thailand, missionaries of various Christian faiths mostly
target the atheist Buddhist majority and impoverished minority tribal

Christians, including about 18,000 Mormons, comprise about one percent
of Thailand's population.

"Since November 2013, the [Thailand] mission has been baptizing in
excess of 200 per month," Reed Haslam reported in January on his
unauthorized LDS-Thailand website.

"One approach has been to offer tours of Church facilities to people
met on the street. When showing them the baptismal font, they [LDS]
ask, 'Would you like to have your sins washed away?' If the answer is
yes, they establish a time for the first discussion.

"The continuing political turmoil in Thailand has also made many
[Thais] wary of how much they can rely on their Buddhist faith, or the
government, to help them find peace in their lives," Mr. Haslam said.

A military coup in May 2014 toppled Thailand's elected government,
replacing it with a martial law regime. Coup leader Gen. Prayuth
Chan-ocha then invoked absolute powers on April 2.

"Martial law is no big deal. The 40th Anniversary of the Dedication of
Thailand for the preaching of the gospel in October 2006 was all held
without any incidents, while martial law was in effect," Mr. Haslam

In freewheeling Thailand where hedonistic entertainment often includes
in-your-face streetside prostitutes, striptease bars, loud nightclubs
and other sensational pleasures, Mormon missionaries are supposed to
resist such decadence.

"Missionaries can be single men between the ages of 18 and 25, single
women over the age of 19, or retired couples," voluntarily serving up
to two years in a foreign country, the official LDS website said.

"Missionaries avoid entertainment, parties or other activities common
to this [young] age-group as long as they are on their missions, so
they can focus entirely on the work of serving and of teaching others
the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Thailand's Buddhists are also increasingly supportive of gays,
lesbians and transgenders, whose behavior Mormons denounce as a "sin."

"What we do know is that the doctrine of the Church -- that sexual
activity should only occur between a man and a woman who are married
-- has not changed, and is not changing," LDS Elder, Dallin H. Oaks of
the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said in 2012.

LDS then launched a "Mormons and Gays" website explaining that sin.

"The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is," their
official gay-focused website said.

"Members of the Church who have same-sex attractions, but don't act on
them, can continue to enjoy full fellowship in the church, which
includes holding the priesthood, carrying out callings, and attending
the temple. Unlike in times past, the Church does not necessarily
advise those with same-sex attraction to marry those of the opposite
sex," it said.

LDS also helps believers overcome Satanic pornography.

"LDS Family Services offers counseling services for individuals,
spouses, and families affected by pornography use," a separate LDS
counseling website said.

"Have I prayed for help in protecting myself against pornography?" it
asks, warning of "Satan's counterfeits" and suggesting: "Give your
electronic devices to a parent or spouse each night."

Originally organized in 1830 by Joseph Smith in an upstate New York
log cabin, LDS now claims more than 15 million members and 144 temples

Beginning in 1835, many of the first Americans in Thailand -- known
then as Siam -- were evangelical Bible-thumpers trying to Christianize
the population.

Several U.S. consuls in Bangkok were missionaries, including the
first, Rev. Stephen Mattoon from 1856 to 1859, who translated the New
Testament into Thai, according to a nonfiction book titled "Americans
in Thailand" which portrays the lives of prominent Americans based
here during the past 200 years.

American missionaries, mostly Baptists, Protestants and Catholics,
involved themselves with Thailand's monarchy, educational, social,
economic and diplomatic affairs and some worked for the U.S. Central
Intelligence Agency -- in addition to proselytizing.

This region's most famous CIA missionaries were Harold Young and his
son Bill -- both deceased Baptists -- who converted animist tribes in
northern Burma.

During World War II, the father worked for America's Office of
Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA, organizing tribal rebels
against Japanese troops in Burma, now also known as Myanmar, according
to biographer David Lawitts.

Later he helped the CIA develop Thailand's Border Patrol Police and,
in the early 1950s, the CIA's failed bid to weaponize opium-growing
Kuomintang (KMT) sheltering in Burma who were loyal to China's Chiang
Kai-shek against Mao Zedong's 1949 communist victory.

His son began working with the CIA in 1959 in Laos, training
paramilitary teams with Lao Gen. Vang Pao to support Washington's
failed war against Lao communists.

Today, some American evangelical Christians haunt Bangkok's neon-lit
bars at night, paying cash to rent bikini-clad prostitutes for the

Instead of trysts, the missionaries talk to the bar girls and try --
usually unsuccessfully -- to lure them into Bible study.

American missionaries' work is rarely criticized in Thailand and often
praised, mostly because their schools, hospitals, orphanages and other
facilities are open to everyone without obligation to convert.

Some Buddhist Thais who do convert simply add Jesus to their
collection of protective spirits, mixing Hindu, animist, superstitions
and other beliefs, while continuing to pray at Buddhist temples in
addition to Christian churches.