Twenty-four-year-old Shivam Shah was born in India and raised in Kenya, yet he jokes that it took moving to Draper, Utah, for him to be shot at. It was an attempted murder case that made headlines across the nation, but Shah doesn't remember that terrifying event as the day he almost lost his life—he remembers it as the day God saved his life, setting him on a path that helped him understand the reality of miracles, grace, and Heavenly Father's love.
From a young age, Shah has realized the power choices play in our lives. Having lived in India until the age of 8, grown up and attended high school in Kenya, and pursued a bachelor's degree in Tampa, Florida, Shah describes himself as having "been lost in transition."
"I was a very obnoxious, short-tempered, agnostic, and crazy guy. I never believed in anything," Shah says, recognizing his early life as being full of mistakes, anger, and poor choices.
In fact, when he was 15 years old, Shah spent 12 hours in a Kenyan prison as a result of those poor choices. "I was blowing fireworks in my yard—which is illegal in Kenya," Shah says. "Around midnight, I am almost done with my fireworks—that’s when I see a police car at my front gate. At that moment, I knew I was in trouble. I started to cry while making that innocent face—but the cops never cared. They took me in their Land Cruiser, and that whole way to the police station, I kept on thinking about this one wrong move. Just one wrong decision. . . . I spent the next 12 hours in the jail, and I still remember every minute of that time I served."
Shah continues, "The difference between you and I and the person sitting in prison right now is one bad decision, literally." But Shah also understands the power of one good decision to transform lives and shape eternities. In fact, he credits all his success and happiness today with one decision: choosing to be baptized as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Learning About Mormons
Shah was finishing his degree in Florida and searching for his next step in life when his family decided to leave everything behind in Kenya and move to Draper, Utah, to start a new life.
When Shah's father first called him to tell him about this new opportunity in Salt Lake City, Shah thought it a strange coincidence. He had just finished a show on Netflix detailing the role Mormons played in the Union and Central Pacific railroads, and now his family was moving near the headquarters of the LDS Church.
Shah decided to join his family as they started to rebuild their lives in a foreign place. He says, "I could relate my whole story to the Lehi/Nephi story, how they left everything and just jumped right aboard. I think the Lord was for sure, for sure watching us, and I think He has brought us here for a purpose."
While searching for a new house or apartment, the family lived in a hotel. Shah happened to find flyers about the Book of Mormon, plan of salvation, and other gospel topics that had been left behind by a mission president who had stayed in the room previously. Having nothing better to do, Shah began to read.
The very next day, four missionaries knocked on Shah's hotel door, one of whom was from France. Shah was struck by the timing of their visit, feeling something besides coincidence was linking together these encounters. Shah kept thinking, "What is the coincidence there is a French guy teaching an Indian guy in America? This has to be something. I have got to pay attention to this."
The first lesson the missionaries taught Shah was about the nature of the Godhead, and Shah found himself enthralled by the idea of the Holy Ghost and His ability to protect, guide, and strengthen lives.
"After a couple of lessons, the missionaries humbly asked me to pray," Shah says. "At first, I was somewhat confused, but for the first time that night, I knelt down and prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ. My life took a drastic turn ever after. Prayer after prayer, all the bad temperament started disappearing. Even my family was quite shocked to see this change in me. . . . They saw I was trying to change my path, so they were very supportive since day one. "
Protected by the Spirit
Shortly after he began praying, Shah received a children's copy of the Book of Mormon from the missionaries and promised to read it. At the same time, he found a new job and began working night shifts at a hotel in Draper.
On a thunderous night in May 2016, Shah was at the hotel with his younger brother, who often accompanied him during these long, dreary night shifts. At 2 a.m., while Shah was reading an illustrated children's Book of Mormon that the missionaries had given him so he could have a better overview of what the Book of Mormon was about, a man stumbled into the hotel.
"He is fully tattooed, and he is stammering and shivering. He is telling me, 'Someone was trying to kill me in the back of your hotel,'" Shah says. "This is the time when the Florida nightclub shooting happened, so it was a pretty intense period in America."
As Shah began questioning the stranger, he recalls, "My first instinct was that this guy is on some substance." After looking on the registry, Shah could not find the man's name listed anywhere, so he asked the man to leave before gathering his courage and stepping out into the stormy night to investigate.
Just 10 yards from the hotel doors and a few seconds into his proximity check, Shah spotted a man about 20 yards away who was acting erratically.
"It was pretty dark, so I could not see him properly, but the way he was behaving, it was very fishy. He was ducking underneath a truck and trying to look around at what’s happening," Shah says. "I started to take my steps back. Then, all of a sudden, I saw a spark from his hand and I hear a sound—the sound of a bullet." As Shah began sprinting away from his attacker, he remembers distinctly, "I could hear two sounds: one from the bullet leaving the gun and one from the bullet flying across me."
After avoiding about half a dozen rounds, Shah remembers thinking, "Nothing has touched me—that’s crazy." Shah ducked behind a nearby vehicle, adrenaline heightening all his senses as his heart pounded. He was still at least five yards from the hotel door, but his attacker was still firing, and Shah could hear the gunshots become louder and louder as the man approached the vehicle. Aside from the almost paralyzing fear, all Shah could think about was getting back to his brother inside the hotel.
"I just gathered some strength, and I got up," Shah recalls. "He fires again. It touches the car but doesn’t touch me. By the time I get back inside the hotel, grab my brother, call the cops, he’s fired 12 rounds at me."
A half an hour after calling the police, Shah recalls an officer carrying "a huge gun, I have never seen such a huge gun" into the hotel and informing him K-9 units had caught the suspect. In a blur, Shah faced the news reporters surrounding the hotel, asking him questions, trying to interview him. "I was just so scared at that time. I did not want to show my face," Shah says.
That morning, Shah quit his job, and while working with detectives to file police reports, Shah learned the man who attacked him had been a top 10 fugitive in the state of Utah and belonged to a white supremacist group called the Aryan Brotherhood.
Shah remembers one of the detectives telling him, "Son, I don’t know what it was, but in my 40 years of service, I have never seen someone miss at a shorter range like this."
But Shah understood what power saved his life. Despite living 22 years as an agnostic, Shah remembered what the missionaries taught him the first day they knocked on his door. At that moment, Shah could not deny the existence of a loving Heavenly Father or His grace any longer.
"I can get lucky once, twice, maybe thrice, but not 12 times," he says. "The next morning, I called the missionaries and I am like, 'Elders, you remember the Holy Ghost you were telling me about? I think that was the Holy Ghost. I was just saved 12 times.'"
He testifies, "Due to the divine power of the Lord and the protection of the Holy Ghost, not even a single bullet touched me."
Finding Miracles in the Church
Shivam Shah was baptized a member of the Church in August 2016, on his 22nd birthday. "It was a different feeling. . . . It was surreal," Shah says about his baptism. "I got out of the water and it was like, 'Wow, I am part of something bigger now.' . . . From that moment, I have always wanted to share my story, share what I felt."
A month after his baptism, Shah's brother followed in his footsteps and became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Though his mother is still Hindu, she often attends church services with her sons, and his father not only understands but is grateful for the path his sons have taken. "I know when I asked him, 'Dad, do you mind if I do this?' [he responded] 'Shivam, you could have been on the roughest path ever, but the path you have chosen is amazing. I would never deny you anything,'" Shah says.
While Shah recognizes the miracle that saved him from being murdered that May two years ago, he also recognizes the hundreds of miracles living the gospel brings into his life every day.
"It is just crazy how the Lord has watched over our family and has brought us out of nowhere to something great. I think this whole experience has taught me that the Lord has answers for everything. He has answers to every situation," Shah says. "I have seen so many tender mercies, so many blessings."
Among those blessings is the way the Lord has changed Shah's heart. At the time he met the missionaries, Shah says, "I would wake up with a double shot of espresso and sleep with a beer bottle next to my bed." But once the missionaries taught him about the Word of Wisdom and he committed to following the Lord, all his cravings for coffee and alcohol vanished, almost overnight. He has experienced similar blessings as he's sacrificed to obey the law of tithing and received unanticipated checks in the mail or unexpected income when he has needed it most. Whether it is the Lord blessing him with unexpected inspiration at work, through prayer, or in the temple, Shah's conversion is an example of how the Lord's hand is apparent in the lives of those who seek Him.
Shah also recognizes that these miracles and God's love have always been a part of his life, even when he did not see them: "Someone once told me that there is no such thing as coincidence. Coincidence is small things Heavenly Father does to make Himself anonymous. I feel He has just given me an extra set of eyes and ears to see Him better."
Currently, Shah is working with his mother to translate the Book of Mormon into their native language, Gujarati. He often sends gospel messages or literature to his relatives in India, driven by a desire to "share what I have seen, what I feel on a daily basis." Shah continues, "It’s true. There is no doubt in my heart that the Book of Mormon is not true."
While Shah strives to share the gospel in any way he can through his story, firesides, and member missionary work, he is hoping to be able to serve a full-time mission and is working to get the proper visa permissions.
"I would love to show people the light I have seen," he says. "I go to church now and I look up to everyone—everyone is a great example to me. . . . They support each other and love each other because no one is perfect. Will we understand everything in the gospel? I don’t think so. Will God get mad if you don’t understand? I don’t think so. [But] if we realize that we are not perfect and we just live together and support each other, love each other, I think that is what our Heavenly Father wants."