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Slain University of Utah student had remarkable Mormon conversion story

SALT LAKE CITY — ChenWei Guo, the student who was shot and killed at the University of Utah last week, was someone special in the eyes of those who knew him.

Spencer Murphy is a former mission companion who called Guo the "most humble, most faithful, loving and caring person I’ve ever met in my life."

Jenine Abegg, whose family was hosting a Chinese foreign exchange student taught by then-Elder Guo as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, described him as "full of love."

Blake Murdock Jr., whose friends were taught by Guo in his family's home, said the missionary "had a presence about him that wasn't in any way pretentious or arrogant. He just was the kind of person everyone wants to be around."

His fellow missionaries called him “The Chinese Joseph Smith.” And to hear Murphy retell his companion’s conversion story, it's easy to understand why.

Guo was killed last week in an attempted carjacking near the University of Utah campus. His funeral was held Monday at the LDS Institute of Religion adjacent to the school.

As his mission companion, Murphy heard Guo share his conversion story on multiple occasions. As Murphy recalled, Guo was 15 years old when he had a party at his home. Coffee and tea were served. A friend of Guo’s who had recently completed a study abroad program in the United States was in attendance and declined to drink. In the Chinese culture, declining the offer of a drink is offensive to the host.

Guo approached his friend and asked why he was not drinking.

“The boy told him he respected him but said he couldn’t tell him why he wasn’t drinking,” Murphy said. Although he didn't know it at the time, Guo had met a member of the LDS faith, who was honoring the law not to speak about his religion.

Guo later obtained a copy of the Book of Mormon. He read the book and prayed about it — “because that’s what the scriptures told him to do,” according to Murphy — and knew he wanted to become a member of the LDS Church.

Guo, according to Murphy, looked up the nearest LDS Church building and discovered that it was in Hong Kong, approximately a 24-hour train ride from Beijing. The now-16-year-old ChenWei Guo made the trip in search of the church whose book of scripture he believed.

He found his way to the Hong Kong Temple. Once there, he began to pray that someone would help him. Shortly thereafter, two missionaries approached him.

According to Murphy, Guo told the missionaries, “I need to be baptized in this church,” pointing up at the temple. Murphy said the missionaries got special permission to teach Guo all of the lessons and baptize him. He was baptized and boarded a train back to Beijing.

Abegg says she believes Guo was attracted to the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ because of the light he already possessed.

“I think his ability to recognize and discern light helped him, and he knew it, he recognized it and you could feel his love for the gospel and for everybody,” she said. “It just shows his Christlike character because he exuded it, that’s what he was. And it wasn’t fake, it wasn’t forced, it was who he really was.”

Guo began attending a small branch in Beijing that met in someone’s living room. Eventually, Guo’s mother began to attend church and was later baptized. Guo accepted a call to serve as a full-time missionary in Provo/Orem, Utah.

ChenWei Guo served in the Provo/Orem Utah Mission as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. | Provided by Spencer Murphy

“He served an honorable mission,” Murphy said. “He was one of my favorite companions. He served faithfully. He was very good at communicating. He taught a lot of people. He touched many lives.”

Abegg and Murdock were both members in that area who had friends taught by Guo in their homes.

“When I met Elder Guo, I quickly saw that he cherished (the gospel) so much. He cherished his testimony. He fed it, he loved it,” Abegg said. “He preached the gospel. He continued to serve. … I just can’t underscore enough how incredible he was.”

“He was just an unbelievable person,” Murdock said. “I honestly felt like, as I got to know him and listen to him teach, although his English wasn’t perfect, he just had such a spirit about him. What he said really resonated with people, especially the people he was teaching in our home. But I was convinced that one day I would turn on the television on Sunday and see him speaking in general conference.”

About a year into his mission, Guo learned that his dad had begun attending church, according to Murphy, who served with Guo for six months during the summer of 2015. In a Facebook post that includes Guo’s testimony, he shares the experience in his own words. His father stopped smoking and stopped drinking beer, coffee and tea. With five months remaining in his mission, Guo received an email from his father, which Guo shared in his testimony.

“My son,” the email began. “If you finish your mission with honor, your father will be baptized by you.”

Before being released, Guo’s father became the last person he was able to baptize as a missionary.

Guo returned to the U.S. to attend school at LDS Business College, later transferring to the University of Utah. In the summer of 2017, he shared the following post on Facebook:

“I'm thrilled to announce that my family and I are going to be sealed together in the Salt Lake Temple on July 18th! I have been waiting for this moment for the past 7 years and it finally comes true! I have no doubts in these past 7 years that the Lord has showed me a way to help my family change from being stubborn atheists to faithful members in this church,” Guo wrote. “I'm proud of my parents and proud to be their son for forever. I know this church is true and I testify that families can be together forever!”

I'm thrilled to announce that my family and I are going to be sealed together in the Salt Lake Temple on July 18th! I...

Posted by ChenWei Guo on Saturday, July 1, 2017

The family was sealed on July 18, 2017.

In the wake of Guo’s death, Abegg has spent time remembering Guo with her three sons, one of whom, William, asked Guo to serve as a witness at his baptism while Guo was in school at LDS Business College. William, who is now 9 years old, pulled out his journal where he wrote about Guo’s participation in his baptism, and the family talked about Guo and the confidence they have that they will see him again.

“We have a hope in the resurrection, we know that we will see him and that he was transferred,” Abegg said, becoming emotional. “He had other work to do and I firmly believed that he would be such an instrument in helping the gospel in China roll forward in a magnificent way so I feel that that work will continue.”

In his farewell testimony at the conclusion of his mission, that was posted on Facebook by a fellow former missionary, ChenWei Guo shared his understanding of the purpose of life and his confidence in what would happen at the conclusion of his time here on earth.

“He wants us to become like him. He wants us to go back to him … and that’s the purpose of our life,” Guo said, later adding, “I know that I will see him again, we’ll cry unto him, we’ll bow our heads before him. We’ll know he’s our Savior.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated.