By Rebecca Lomax, Ph.D.
Van der Post wrote, “Life is its own journey, presupposes its
own change and movement”. Van der Post himself lived an
extraordinary life dedicated to teaching. He understood the
interconnectedness of all life on earth. He sought peace in an
era before that became a buzzword. He was, in his own way, a
I’d like to introduce you to another visionary, Dr. Pradit
Takerngrangsarit, a man whose personal journey has taken him
from Trang to Chiang Mai, and then to the United States and
Australia for advanced degrees. He has traveled from
Confucianism to Christianity, and that’s a very long journey.
And he has served in other professional positions over the past
thirty-plus years he’s spent at Payap University. He was the
first Thai Chaplain, and now he is the incoming President, with
many successful positions in between both professionally and
personally. He has a unique view of the position into which he
is stepping, envisioning it as an opportunity for service. He
wants to ensure the university’s future stability of
leadership, and to better integrate the university into the
community around it. He is actively building teams.
Dr. Pradit was born into a large Thai-Chinese family in Trang.
His father followed the Confucian traditions. His mother was the
second wife, and there were 16 brothers and sisters all living
together in the busy household. But his mother’s health was
not good. She had been diagnosed with tuberculosis prior to the
availability of antibiotic treatment for that disease in
Thailand. She became increasingly incapacitated, very sick, and
eventually lapsed into and out of consciousness. In a last
effort to save her life, Dr. Pradit’s father allowed her to
attend a Christian healing service in Trang where a missionary
from the United States practiced the laying on of hands.
Whatever happened there, and Dr. Pradit says without reservation
that she was healed; she resumed a normal life and lived for
twenty more years. She and her young son became Christians, the
only two in the big household.
Dr. Pradit attended seminary and graduated from Payap
University’s McGilvary Faculty of Theology. He felt a strong
need to offer himself in service as gratitude for his mother’s
regained health, and he became the first Thai chaplain at the
university on graduation. But he didn’t lead by preaching. He
accepted all students regardless of their faith – or lack of
it – and led by example, by doing. He saw his ministry as one
to nurture, based on Christian principals and values. Christians
must “live in this world”, he says, and not set themselves
above or aside from other people. He became the head of the
department of philosophy and religion, specializing in Old
Testament studies, and he eventually became the Vice President
of Student Affairs. Along the way he went to the United States
to study, receiving a Master’s degree in theology. Then he
went to Australia and completed a Ph.D. Academically, he
continued to advance. He says he will never stop studying, never
be content that he knows enough.
He married and had a family. He became active in Rotary Club of
Chiang Mai, working in many capacities and eventually serving as
President. He has been active on many non-governmental agency
boards, and is a frequent guest speaker at conferences and
seminars. He and his wife were packed and ready to leave for the
United States the day after we talked. It was a happy journey.
His daughter, a gifted student in her own right, was graduating
from his Alma Mater – she wears a Phi Beta Kappa key, and was
invited to join four honor societies. Dr. Pradit was a guest
speaker at the graduation ceremony, and gave the invocation.
I’ve no doubt that graduation was even more memorable to his
daughter because of his participation. Those are memories to
We talked about Payap University. He said that Payap graduates
should learn the “spirit of the second mile”, that
faith-based education should be different from secular-based
education. He has many plans, many hopes for the university,
which began in 1974 with fewer than two hundred students and is
now home to 7,000 young men and women students, over 400 faculty
members and more than 350 staff people. The responsibilities are
enormous. He wants to be assessable, but understands how
difficult that can be. He wants to encourage and nurture faculty
as well as students, encouraging them to take advanced degrees.
He knows that many of the senior people at the university will
be retiring in the next few years, and hopes to be able to bring
other faculty and staff along to replace them seamlessly.
He envisions offering increased academic services to the local
community. Payap has multiple local campuses, each with
conference facilities, meeting rooms and auditoriums. While they
often serve the needs of religious conferences and tours, they
are also well suited to secular needs. The Crystal Springs
campus even includes attractive and modern guesthouses. Dr.
Pradit hopes that Payap will eventually become a center for
Southeast Asian studies for the Mekong sub region, hosting
resident scholars and visiting professors. The university could
easily expand into southern China, offering the resources for an
Asian cultural center where both ancient and modern regional
cultures could be researched. He speaks of the pharmacy school
and its innovative integration of western and Chinese medicine.
It is an example of how academia can embrace the new while
preserving the old.
Dr. Pradit hopes to develop a demonstration school, an
opportunity to provide education to community young people while
learning about education. He thinks that the nursing school is
the ideal place to develop and implement a geriatric or dementia
research center. It’s exciting to spin ideas back and forth.
Some of them that may evolve and grow into educational, research
and service programs while others may not. But isn’t that the
process we talked about earlier? Life is truly its own journey,
and Pradit Takerngrangsarit is making the most of it.
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