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Lost in Shanghai

By Bob DeWitt

Illustrations by Nicole Xu

At its core, this is a story of love—God’s love. This is my path to conversion, in which humility played a key role.

I was a lost sheep for nearly twenty years. I was born into a Latter-day Saint family, was baptized at eight, and went on a mission to Taiwan at the age of nineteen. I attended BYU. Gloria and I were married in the Salt Lake Temple. But, at the age of thirty, I suddenly quit going to Church. I quit reading the scriptures. I quit paying tithing. I quit praying. I quit wearing my temple garment. I simply walked away from God.

Looking back now, I understand why: I had been an active and faithful member of the Church, but only in outward appearances to please other people—first my parents and later my wife. By so doing, I was sailing along on someone else’s power. I did not have my own testimony. I had not been truly converted! I had not asked God for a witness, and I was afraid to do so.

I was a proud person, and I did not think I needed anyone. Why would I need to rely on God when I could get through life using my own talents and intellect? Why did I need a Savior? I told myself that I was willing to pay the price for my own mistakes. I told Gloria many times, “I don’t need God. If you need God, go to church. But I don’t.” I was prideful, pure and simple.

When our daughter Susan was married in the Monterey Mexico Temple, I was unable to attend her wedding because I did not have a temple recommend—nor could I get one. When our son Andrew turned eight while we were living in Uganda, his Grandpa Robertson baptized him. I was not a worthy priesthood holder, so I could not have baptized him even if I had wanted to. I told myself that these things did not bother me, and that is what I told others, too. But the truth is, not baptizing my son and not attending my daughter’s wedding made me hurt inside. I was too proud to admit it. I told myself, “That’s okay. They need God. I don’t.”

Fast forward to 2004. I was approaching fifty. We were living in Shanghai, where I worked at the American Consulate. I loved Shanghai and I loved my job. In my mind, it was all smooth sailing, and I thought that I could get through life on my own.

But in the fall of 2004, my ship crashed on a reef. There was something wrong with me, but I did not know what it was. I could not sleep, eat, or concentrate. I could not retain anything I read. I started to feel an incredible burden of anxiety about my job, which became so great that it was debilitating. I began to feel worthless. I was incapacitated by fear, which only increased my loss of self-confidence, starting a cycle that sent me spinning very quickly into a very dark place.

By Thanksgiving, I was a wreck. I felt as if I were falling into a deep well and the circle of light above me was growing smaller and dimmer. With the intervention of my sweet wife and caring colleagues, a State Department doctor met with me and diagnosed major depression. I was medically evacuated from Shanghai to Washington, DC. This was very frightening for me. I worried that I was going to lose my job. I even worried that I might lose my family. I started thinking about hurting myself, or worse.

During this time, I was so overwhelmed that I could not read. This, too, was very frightening for me. I relied on my brain in my job—a brain that up until that point had served me fairly well. I wondered what would happen to me if something was wrong with my brain. Would I have to give up my Foreign Service career? If so,
how was I going to support my family?

Several days before Gloria and I left Shanghai, she asked if she could read to me from the Book of Mormon. Prayer and scripture reading were not part of my life and had not been for many years. I do not know why I accepted her suggestion to read to me, but when she began to read aloud, just hearing the words truly brought me a small measure of peace.

The day before I left Shanghai, a priesthood holder from the Shanghai Expatriate Branch gave me a blessing at my request. I had not had a blessing in many years because I was a proud man and I did not want to ask anybody for anything. I do not remember the exact words spoken to me in that blessing, but I do remember what I felt: a sense of peace and hope, and a feeling that someone was watching over me. I felt that this “someone” was God! In fact, I began to feel, for the first time in my entire life, that God knew who I was and that He cared about me!

My illness was a blessing from God because it humbled me. In Mosiah 29:20, it says, “[The Lord] did deliver them because they did humble themselves before him; and because they cried mightily unto him he did deliver them.” The depression made me realize that I could not get through this life alone, no matter how smart or talented I thought I was.

My affliction prepared me to find God. When Alma was preaching the gospel among the poor and the afflicted, “he beheld with great joy; for he beheld that their afflictions had truly humbled them, and that they were in a preparation to hear the word” (Alma 32:6, emphasis added). In the weeks and months that followed my depression diagnosis, I began to have the desire to find out for myself about God. That desire was His gift of love to me. It was also the beginning of a series of miracles in my life. Because I was humble, the Lord delivered me.

I began to read the Book of Mormon again and to ask God for a witness of its truth. After many months of reading and prayer, I received that witness. On a beautiful Easter morning in 2005, while sitting on a beautiful beach on the island of Boracay in the Philippines, I was reading in Mormon 8:16, which says, “And blessed be he that shall bring this thing to light; for it shall be brought out of darkness unto light, according to the word of God; yea, it shall be brought out of the earth, and it shall shine forth out of darkness, and come unto the knowledge of the people; and it shall be done by the power of God.”

These words struck me like a bolt of lightning. A warmth and power entered my body from the top of my head and traveled to the tips of my toes.

I knew at that moment that God was telling me, through the Holy Ghost, that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, called to bring forth the Book of Mormon and restore God’s true Church on the earth in the latter days. I came to understand, for the first time in my life, the meaning of the Atonement, and to know that Jesus Christ is my Savior. I came to know that without Him, I am lost.

I was a blind man walking in darkness, going the wrong way on a lonely and benighted path. Today, I am still a lost sheep—we all are until we return to God—but now I know who my Shepherd is and where He wants me to go. I still struggle to find my way, but my eyes are now open, and the light of the Savior leads me on. The single greatest lesson I learned through my illness is that God loves me.

Of course, my conversion was really just the beginning of a journey that I am still on. I still must deal with depression. I continue to take antidepressants, see a psychiatrist, and as needed, talk to a counselor. Fall is always a difficult time for me, with the shorter days, limited daylight, and colder temperatures. I talk to a counselor to help me get through that annual downturn. These things helped me recover then and continue to help me now deal with depression.

My testimony has also helped me to recover physically, mentally, and spiritually. I returned to Shanghai, resumed my career, and began what I believe is a lifelong journey of conversion, strengthening my testimony and building a relationship with my Savior, Jesus Christ.

I have since learned that humility is a prerequisite to true conversion. Without humility, the Spirit cannot bear witness to the seeker. Without humility, one cannot develop the desire to learn of God and of the Savior, or even admit that one has anything to learn. Alma said, “And now, because ye are compelled to be humble blessed are ye; for a man sometimes, if he is compelled to be humble, seeketh repentance. . . . Do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word? . . . Yea much more blessed than they who are compelled to be humble” (Alma 32:13–15, emphasis added).

Humility means that we are willing to put God’s promises to the test. It is saying that God knows best and that even if we do not fully understand why, we know what He commands is better for us than what our own knowledge or intellect tells us to do.

Humility requires obedience. The process of ongoing obedience is known as “enduring to the end.” Obedience is a true form of humility because it acknowledges all that God has done for us and that He always knows what is best.

I pray that each person who reads this will know and feel God’s love. Let His love change your lives as it has changed mine. Let it convert you! If you are sailing along, as I was, on someone else’s faith and testimony, let God’s love help you find your own. If pride is in the way, do not wait to be humbled as I was. Let God’s love humble you; let it guide you to a higher and brighter place.

Robert DeWitt recently retired as the principal officer in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, following a lengthy Foreign Service career with the US Department of State. DeWitt also served in Addis Ababa, Beijing, Dar es Salaam, Kampala, Quito, Mogadishu, Minneapolis (directing the new Passport Agency), Shanghai, Shenyang, and Washington (Consular Training at FSI). He has spent more than twelve years living and working in Chinese-speaking environments. He is the proud father of two and grandfather of six. We thank him for sharing his reconversion story, which was delivered at a fireside in Washington, DC.