From Thailand to Big Bay

Sudalak Layraman, pictured here, is a pastor at the Community Presbyterian Church in Big Bay. Originally from Thailand, Layraman said she was drawn there by the area’s natural beauty. (Photo by 8-18 Media)

Written by Liam-Ulland Joy, 11, with contributions from Elise Heide, 13, Anna Martinson, 12, Michael Mankee, 12, and Anja McBride, 11.

What does the tropical, lush country of Thailand have in common with the little town of Big Bay Michigan, set on the shores of a chilly Lake Superior? Not much, but they do have Sudalak Layraman (AKA Sudi), a pastor at the Community Presbyterian Church in Big Bay in common. Layraman arrived in Big Bay in September and her life journey that brought her to the U.P. to serve is worth telling.

Layraman was born in Bangkok, the capital and most populous city in Thailand. Thailand has a class system, much like the United Kingdom: a ruling class, which is royalty and government employees, an upper class, and a lower class. Layraman shared that her childhood was not typical of most Thai people and was quite privileged because of the family she was born into.

“It’s different because I was born into a wealthy family. My father was a governor of a province in Thailand, so we always had servants,” she said. “Our daily life we had people to take care of me. I [would] wake up and have all my clothes ready. Even the toothbrush would already have toothpaste ready for me. But, it’s not ordinary life of Thai people.”

Her journey to America started when she joined an organization called the Student Christian Movement, a bold choice for Layraman to make considering Buddhism is the main religion of Thailand, but her curiosity about Christianity opened up new possibilities for her.

“I was born in a Buddhist family and in Thailand they have 60 million population in the whole country and 92 percent of 60 million are Buddhist,” Layraman said. “When you are born in Thailand it is just assumed you are Buddhist. I did not know God. I did not know about God. I only know the only thing we worship is Buddha. I went to college in northern part of Thailand and I met students in college where many of them were Christian.”

At first her father thought it was just a teenage whim that she wanted to become a Christian.

“First my father did not really support when I decided I wanted to become a Christian. My father said that Christianity is just for Western people only. We are Thai. We are Buddhist and our ancestors have never been anything other than Buddhist so he told me [to] change my mind, but then later on after I pray about it for a year and I told my dad that I would really like to become a Christian and to be baptized,” Layraman said. “He supported me and later on after I became Christian I came here and went to seminary. My father thought I would never come this far, but he is proud of me and that I took my Christian beliefs very seriously and become minister or pastor.”

Layraman said her unique upbringing allowed her to focus on education and that helped shape her life.

“My parents emphasized education. Everybody has to study really hard; everybody in my family because we have a privilege, because we don’t have to work hard, but we have to study hard,” she said. “I studied. I went to high school, I went to college, and I have two master’s degrees. Do you know why I came here to America? I came to study. I came to University of Illinois for my Ph.D. program. So that’s upbringing. Just study, study. I always tell my kids we value education.”

Layraman taught biology courses at a Thai college before moving to the United States to study. Layraman and her husband were able to come over to the United States on a scholarship from a Thai university. From there, things did not go as planned, but she wouldn’t change a thing.

“I told you when I was in Thailand I had wealthy parents and so when we came to America, we have a scholarship that we took from the university to come to study, but after a while we changed our minds,” Layraman said. “First, my husband changed his mind. He wanted to change his mind to go to seminary to train and become a minister and the university in Thailand said, ‘Oh no no no, we did not send you to come and study to become a Christian minister or Christian pastor.’”

The university sent Layraman and her husband to study and learn new skills at the University of Illinois, but they were to return back to Thailand armed with their new education and continue teaching at the Thai University. Layraman said there were severe penalties for following their hearts. They had to resign from the university and their scholarships would not only be cut, but also they needed to pay back their scholarships by three times the amount within one year. Layraman explained that the university policy was known as the “brain drain policy,” which was put in place to prevent students from studying in the United States and then not returning to Thailand with their new skills. Layraman and her husband had to give up a lot to stay in the United States, but life lessons were learned from having nothing.

“We did not have any income. We did not have any work. We became very poor. That’s my lesson—become poor,” Layraman said.

Life in the United States took a while to get used to. Her young sons had to show her and her husband how to order at McDonald’s, and at first she was afraid to answer phones because even though she could read and write English, it was difficult for her to understand conversations over the phone. American life grew on the family and Layraman did go to seminary and become a pastor, working several places in the United States. Layraman admits to not being young, and in fact, she came out of retirement due to a phone call from the Community Presbyterian Church’s nominating committee.

“The committee looked at my resume and they thought ‘Wow! This pastor is cool, we need her.’ So they called me,” Layraman recalled.

They asked her to come and see Big Bay. She fell in love with Big Bay’s natural beauty and described it as the most beautiful area in the world. Although, Layraman mentioned that if the snow got to be too much for her, she would visit her family and friends in Thailand for a respite from the cold. She also wishes Marquette had a proper Oriental market, and insisted that Thailand’s purple fruit with a white center, called mangosteen, is the best tasting fruit on earth and she misses eating it. Despite her wishes and wants, she would never change a thing about her path in life. Her message to the young people she encounters is simple enough.

“No. 1, you are student, your duty is to study, study, study as hard as you can. It’s your duty, but then you do what makes you happy. Whatever you enjoy, you do it, you do the best and think about the future,” Layraman said. “And when you help other people, when you help your friend and you love your friend, when you do that, you feel good, you feel good inside, and then after you feel good you have self-esteem. You have to have good self-esteem and then you will do good, and be good and you will succeed in your life. I do not talk about money, do what you love and money will come.”

If you’re young and heed her advice, you will go far. Live like Sudalak Layraman, take risks, do what you love and you never know where you will end up.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.