The Unlikely Life of Patras Bukhari

Magazine Issue
Spring 2019


A profile picture of Patras BukhariBooks have been there for him all along. Those, and maybe some­thing more. "I come from an illiterate family, both parents having had zero formal education. My siblings (I have five broth­ers) are mostly elementary or middle school graduates—not dropped out from school willingly but due to hard financial circumstances at that time in the fam­ily. I continued somehow, and with the help of many kind teachers and friends, I achieved the dream of my life. Above all, the Lord's hand was in my life in both ways, invisibly and visibly." 

Books were there for the young Patras Bukhari, born in 1968 into an uneducated Pakistani home focused on daily survival. One book, its undeniable words devoured on a long bus ride through his native land, changed everything. Books helped him through a dual bachelor's degree and then master's and doctoral degrees in educational leadership in the McKay School. More books, mastered in four languages, are now the tools of his career as a project manager at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in the United States. And, for many hours each week, he translates books to help others find the life-changing blessings he has found. 

An Unlikely Path

Bukhari started life in the newly built city of Islamabad, Pakistan. He was seven when his parents moved their family back to their home village of Gujranwala, 135 miles to the south.

There, in the birthplace of the founder of the Sikh empire, in a country in which up to 98 percent of the population are Muslim, young Bukhari attended Catholic school and hoped to become a Catholic priest. The area remains a difficult place for Christians and other religious minorities today. As a young adult, he taught school in the mornings and continued his theological studies in the afternoons. 

During that time he met his sweetheart, Shanaz. Although arranged marriages were the norm, in 1991 the young couple convinced their parents to allow a wedding. After their marriage they taught in the same school and eventually welcomed three daughters and a son. 

Bukhari graduated with a dual bachelor's degree in sociology and education from Notre Dame Institute of Education in Karachi in 1993. He worked as a teacher, a teacher trainer, and a school principal. 

A friend gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon in 1994, saying that it was from a new church in Pakistan and that when its members prayed, they cried a lot. He left the book untouched on the shelf. 

In May 1995, Bukhari was headed off to a job interview with the Catholic bishop in Rawalpini, near Islamabad, when his wife suggested he take a book for the six-hour bus ride. Seeing the only one he had never read, he grabbed the gift from his friend. 

"So I started to read, and that was a turning point in my life. In the introduc­tion it said the crowning event in the Book of Mormon was the personal visit of our Savior Jesus Christ to people of the Nephites. It was a totally new area of learning for me. I felt that I should read more about that.”

"I read a big portion of the Book of Mormon: 1 Nephi and 2 Nephi. I mispro­nounced names, but I liked the story, and the Spirit was very strong. When I read 2 Nephi 25:26, where it says, 'We talk of Christ, . . . we preach of Christ, . . . and we teach 'our children' where to turn 'for a remission of their sins,' that was a testimony for me. I read some, but then I skipped and read Moroni. I especially liked the book of Moroni because in it Moroni explained the concept of charity and love, and that was the same thing we read in the Bible." 

Upon reaching the Catholic bishop's residence, Bukhari learned that the bishop would not be there for three days but Bukhari would be welcome to stay at the home until he could be interviewed. Upset because of his investment in an expensive bus ride, he wondered what he would do for the next three days. 

"Thinking and flipping the pages of the Book of Mormon, I found that the names and telephone number of the missionaries were written on the white pages of the Book of Mormon. So I talked to myself and said, 'I will use my time to learn about this new church.' 

"I asked the bishop's secretary if l could call my friends, and she said go ahead. Here I am calling the Mormon missionar­ies from the Catholic bishop's office. That is very rare! Within 30 minutes I was at the gate of the missionaries' house. 

"Then the missionary started to teach the discussions. He talked about bap­tism, and I had many questions. I knew Catholic liturgy and Catholic theology. I always had had questions about the Trinity, the place of Mother Mary, baptizing children, and the role of Christ's sacrifice. I found my answers in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I understood the doc­trine hidden behind the very simple phrase that 'Jesus is my personal Savior.' Within two and a half days I had finished all the discussions. 

"Then, on the third day, the Catholic bishop came, I was interviewed, and I got my job. It was the month of May 1995. The bishop told me that I would start my teaching job in September 1995, because in June, July, and August the schools would be closed. 

"I told the missionaries I was going back home. They said, 'What about your bap­tism?' I said, 'I am coming back in September, and then you can baptize me.' The elder reluctantly said, 'Well, there will be a big gap between your discussions and your baptism, and maybe you would need to receive your discussions again.' I said, 'Okay.' I looked at him and I said to him, 'Is it okay if you baptize me now?' He said, 'Are you ready?' I said, 'Yes, I am ready.' I was baptized on the third day. I received confirmation on the same day." 

A New Direction

"I came home. Everything had changed in three days. I left home as a Catholic and came home as a Mormon. It was the best, biggest change in my life. 

"My sweetheart was not aware of the change that had occurred in my life, because at that time we did not have any telephone so that I could tell her about searching, finding, and embracing the true gospel of Jesus Christ. I came home with more litera­ture, and I was reading articles from the Church magazines and stories from the Book of Mormon." 

Soon Shanaz was baptized, and the couple worked to learn everything they could. Bukhari never did start that teaching job with the Catholic Church. Before he could move to Rawalpindi to teach, he had accepted the calling of branch president in Lahore at the young age of 26. Later that year he was asked to help translate the Book of Mormon into Urdu, a language closely related to Hindi and the official language of Pakistan. 

After three and a half years as branch president, he was called as first counselor to the Pakistan district president and taught leadership training sessions in English and Urdu. He became the first native Pakistani district president and served until leaving in 1999 for Brigham Young University, where he had been accepted to the master's program in educa­tional leadership.

"Patras, his wife, Shanaz, and their children arrived in Provo from Pakistan in the winter. They were ill-prepared for the cold weather, so I took them to Kmart and soon had them in warm clothing," recalls Professor Vance Randall fondly. "I was the advisor and dissertation chair for Patras. He worked hard and was a very good student." 

"BYU widened my perspective," Bukhari states. "My biological parents were illiterate, but BYU is my educa­tional parent. From the time I came to Utah to attend BYU, I have gained a rich secular and religious education. My wife, Shanaz, and I received temple endow­ments in 1999, and our children were sealed to us." 

Bukhari served in several Church leadership positions while completing a master's and a doctorate in educa­tional leadership in the McKay School. He continued translating the Book of Mormon. 

"I remember him sharing with me his excitement when he told me that he and his wife had met with President Gordon B. Hinckley, who discussed Bukhari's translation of the Book of Mormon," Randall continued. 

Returning to Pakistan after gradu­ation in 2007, he became the director of education for the Church in the area and established 15 education centers in Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. 

"Our hope was that Patras would return to Pakistan and with his doc­toral degree be able to provide leader­ship and support to the nascent Church membership in Pakistan as well as to his professional field in education," Randall says. "This hope was short ­lived when it became apparent that he and his family were not safe in Pakistan because he was a Christian and a member of the Church." 

A Mission of Understanding

Returning to the U.S. in 2009, Bukhari soon found work as an instructor of Urdu at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, California. It is the Department of Defense's premier school for culturally­ based foreign language education and training. Individuals are sponsored for training here by all four branches of the military service. 

Bukhari was pro­moted to department chair and mentored more than 30 new lan­guage instructors. He developed the first Urdu language curriculum and led the redesign of Hindi and Punjabi cur­riculum. Urdu graduation rates increased from 48 percent to 84 percent within one year. He also created a standardized assess­ment process and devel­oped local language immersion programs for Urdu, Hindi, and Punjabi. 

He now works as a project manager with responsibility for the quality of all language proficiency tests developed there or by other U.S. govern­ment agencies.

"In my job I work with many lan­guages, even though I don't speak them." He sets up a framework of teaching that is appropriate for the skill level of candidates. 

"The institute teaches critical lan­guages in order to communicate and cooperate with allies and comprehend the intentions of enemies. 

"When I started this work, I felt it was my mission to teach the language of Urdu. I was in charge of South Asian studies ­Urdu, Hindi, and Punjabi. We teach the culture also. We teach how to react in those countries and prevent misunder­standings. My mission is to teach our sol­diers to protect innocent lives. Everybody who is learning the language is not going to fight in the war. They will be communi­cating with local people. Sometimes they help with various disaster situations." 

An Invitation to the PathPatras Bukhari smiling as he holds open a book and sitting at a desk

Bukhari has been translating Church material since very soon after his baptism. He currently plays a key role in the translation of upcoming scripture projects and the evaluation and revision of prior sacred material text. He has also worked on nonscrip­tural Church translation. For the past 18 years he has helped with general conference translation and interpretation. 

"Translation is a tedious process. I prepare myself in various ways," Bukhari says. "First of all, every day I read at least one hour of Urdu classic literature, one hour of English literature (classic and contemporary), as well as grammar books to stay up to date with language knowledge. I even read English and Urdu dictionaries. I have developed this habit over a long period of time. It has served me well in translat­ing effectively. Furthermore, I prepare myself for the scriptural writing style and nonscriptural content. I study it out in my mind, and then I go to the Lord asking if it is right. I have experienced many times the correct, proper, and specific words appearing in my head. I have received confirmation many times that the material I have translated is correct. In the words of Elder Neil L. Andersen, 'I don't know everything, but I do know enough' (October 2015)." 

Bukhari helps family and others in Pakistan by sharing some of these books that have transformed his life. "Because of the gospel. my life has completely changed," he reflects. "Because of the eternal perspective, I value family. Whatever I am, it is because of my family, the Church, and BYU." 

So goes the story of the unlikely life of a boy born into illiteracy who is eternally grateful for the books that changed everything. And that boy sees now that "above all, the Lord's hand was in my life in both ways, invisibly and visibly." 

 

Written by Cynthia Glad

Photography by Bradley Slade

Read Time: 16 minutes