Dan Brown, '69, '73, and Baxter Brown, '10
in July 2008
Ask Daniel “Baxter” Brown, Carolina junior, what possession he values most on a day-to-day basis, and you won’t hear anything about handheld portable electronic devices or other trendy accessories that accompany many college students throughout their daily stops.
No, Baxter will simply take out a two-and-a-half-year-old companion so worn that it can easily be confused for a hand-me-down from a grandparent. It’s the book that he credits with providing him a foundation, and it’s written in Thai.
Go East, Young Man
The treasured keepsake, good and worn, is a “free timeout” and a “good friend” when he needs one, such as when he arrived in Thailand alone as an 18-year-old and knew nobody. It’s “not old, just used every day for two years,” as he puts it. It’s the Book of Mormon in Thai, and out of everything Baxter Brown brought back with him from a two-year mission trip in the Asian country, it’s by far the most meaningful to him.
Back in 2006, Baxter didn’t know a single Thai word. Friends who now make up a significant part of his life he hadn’t yet met. And he didn’t have the gift of clarity that can arise from an expedition without the comfort of family or friends near.
An avid churchgoer, Baxter Brown knew he’d be going away for a mission trip after his first year of college at Carolina. Willing to go where he was asked and knowing that this selection is not a choice, Baxter, having lunch with his father at McCutchen House at the time, was surprised to learn that his missionary work would take him to Asia.
“I speak some French and Spanish, so I thought maybe I’d be sent to a country that speaks one of those languages, but I was instead sent somewhere that doesn’t speak either,” Baxter laughs.
But the decision makers knew that Baxter could play a mean six-string, and perhaps that’s what initiated his visit to Thailand, where the Mormon missionary tradition is steeped in the local adoration of its musical band, named SYS. Fortuitously, about a year into Baxter’s mission, an opening in the band became available, and he was soon a three-string guitarist and a local sensation.
Say It with Music
Though it took some time to learn Thai, Baxter says the learning curve was much simpler from a music perspective: “Growing up the South, I’ve been exposed to a lot of different music, like R&B, blues and jazz. In Thailand, I just took those influences and played in an Asian style.”
The 40-year-old band, made up of six young missionaries at any given time, is a hit, and has been for decades. For a time it was discontinued, but the people of Thailand petitioned their leaders to bring it back. Because of this, Baxter was able to drastically enhance his mission by taking part in the storied ritual.
“I believe the reason people love our music is because we’re foreigners—we’re young, English-speaking Westerners singing Thai songs,” Baxter says. “It shows them we love their country and that we’re genuinely interested in them, not because we’re trying to convert them.”
The purposes of the band are to share Christianity and work in partnership with the people and government, as well as to serve the church.
“Through music, you can feel so much,” Baxter says. “I met one man who started talking to me because he knew about the band from 40 years ago. We were able to begin a relationship and he developed faith in Christ, which led to a lifestyle change and, ultimately, more happiness and a better relationship with his family. This is why the music matters to what we’re trying to do, which is to help people.”
Baxter was fortunate to play for the high-profile 80th birthday celebration of Bhumibol Adulyadej, the king of Thailand, in the province of Lopburi in December 2007. The anticipation was so massive that the band spent a month of preparation for that single event. Overall, SYS enjoyed an immense amount of press in Baxter’s eight-month-stint, appearing on national television a total of four times in that period and on different radio stations 50 times.
The celebrity that resulted from his status as a musician in the band was “crazy, always rushing around,” according to Baxter, but it was the silent moments of introspection that truly made the trip worthwhile for him.
The Strength of Family
As a young man in Thailand, Baxter was expected to teach those interested about Jesus, clearing up any misconceptions about Christianity and promoting the idea that knowing Him can lead to more happiness, success, and closeness in family life. According to Baxter’s own expectations, his mission was accomplished. It seems that Baxter was surprised, however, by the many things the Thai people taught him.
“To be able to see changes that happened to people, it strengthens your own testimony,” Baxter says. “I can go to a country, learn Thai, and the people become interested in what I have to say. Then they’re encouraged to transform their lives and their families for the better. It’s amazing.”
The foundation of a strong family is nothing new to Baxter, whose father, Dan, ’69, '73, orchestrated a family trip to Bangkok to bring Baxter home during Christmas 2007. Seasoned travelers, the group, which includes Baxter’s mother, Lorna, and younger brother, Parker, showed up with custom “Bangkok Gamecocks” t-shirts to wear around the capital’s famous floating market, and they attracted quite some interest from Australians and Europeans who recognized the “Gamecocks” name.
As a surprised Baxter puts it, “They busted out some shirts on me at the markets!”
“But in all seriousness, the fact that the family came to get me was really special,” Baxter says. “It’s specific to our family—usually you go and come home. But my parents wanted to see what it was like as well and meet the people and friends I associated with. I enjoyed it.”
In Baxter’s two years abroad, he spoke with his family only three times. During a phone call toward the end of Baxter’s trip, it was clear to Dan that his son was “totally different,” but in a good way. Once Baxter started thinking of Thailand as his home, Dan exclaimed to the family, “We’re going over there to make sure he does come home!”
To get to Bangkok, the Browns took a 26-hour flight from Atlanta, by way of Tokyo. Once there, the Browns lived up to their status as polished travelers by taking part in many sight-seeing delights, including visiting Angkor Wat, the awe-inspiring temple depicted on the national flag of Cambodia. They also spent some family bonding time riding elephants in the jungle on Christmas, only to be vulnerably positioned amidst an elephant stampede, guides abandoning the paying guests as they fled into the lush forest.
“We were screaming bloody murder! The baby elephant was the size of a small Volkswagen, and apparently it was looking for its mother,” Dan explains. “Riding’s fun, but one time’s enough.”
A Bangkok Gamecock Is Home
With Baxter home, he’s concentrating on getting his degree, finding a job and beginning a life for himself. Because “Facebook rules the world,” as he puts it, he’s still in touch regularly with his friends in Asia.
“I made lifelong friends and personally brought people into the church,” he says. “I can open my laptop and have a webcam conversation at midnight here when it’s noon over there, talking with my friends.”
Baxter’s history of attending Carolina ballgames has been revitalized, as have his campus activities, most notably his involvement in the campus ministry program for the Church of Latter Day Saints, located on Assembly Street, diagonally across from the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center.
“We would like for people to take a look—our doors are always open,” Baxter says of the place where he spends his time between classes, playing ping pong and studying. “I’m going to sit here and watch this thing get better, watch the building fill up.”
Dan stays busy supporting the Gamecocks as a booster of the athletics programs as well as academically through the Moore School of Business Dean’s Circle. Of course, Dan’s 30-plus years of devotion to his Alumni Association—which supports a robust scholarship program, among other university initiatives—are proof of his exceptional commitment to his alma mater, as well.
“I try to be a big supporter in any way I can be,” Dan says. “When I go to football games, I like running into other members of the Alumni Association. I end up renewing friendships that way. I also look forward to taking part in a trip with the Carolina Travelers sometime soon.”
Still, his proudest accomplishment is his family.
“It’s the greatest fun to see the kids enjoying themselves and being successful,” Dan explains. “Thankfully, we still have a bit of that ahead of us.”
Like Baxter, Parker will most likely commit to a mission trip in a few years.
“I hope that he will make the decision to go on a mission because of what he’ll learn,” Baxter says of his younger brother. “It’s not up to him or me where he goes, but I hope he can experience Thailand like I did.”
Only time will tell what’s to come for the Browns, but we know no matter where life takes Baxter, his trusty brown book will follow, or more accurately, it will guide him along the way.