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Elizabeth Smart's other journey
November 8th, 2010
08:05 PM ET

Elizabeth Smart's other journey

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

In a courtroom in Utah this week, Elizabeth Smart revisited the darkest  days of her life's journey. But her testimony came during a short break from a spiritual journey - one that has shielded her from reminders of her abduction, the nine-month ordeal and the attention that's followed her.

For more than a year, Smart, who recently turned 23, has been in the midst of her LDS Church mission, a rite of passage hallowed by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Serving in Paris, France, she is among the 52,000 Mormon missionaries - most of them young adults; the others retired couples - who are knocking on doors and speaking 107 different languages in 180 countries, according to Lyman Kirkland, a church spokesman.

Those overseeing Smart’s mission didn’t return a call to CNN to discuss her missionary work. But if her time in the field is typical, here’s a glimpse into how she’s been living.

She’s been cut off from television, barred from seeing movies and prohibited from following the news. The only music she hears is church-approved. She wakes at 6:30 a.m. everyday to study the gospel by herself and with another young woman missionary known as her companion.

Barring the one day a week when she and her companion can do laundry, run errands, write letters home and, time permitting, go sightseeing, Smart’s days are spent with her Book of Mormon in hand, reaching out to strangers and teaching those who will listen.

Sharing the LDS Church doctrine, and being of service to people they meet along the way, is a cornerstone of Mormonism. By teaching the gospel and baptizing others, the homegrown U.S. religion has grown to about 14 million members worldwide since it was founded 1830, Kirkland says.

Joseph Smith Jr. established the Christian church after translating the Book of Mormon from golden plates that he said the angel Moroni revealed to him in New York State. In its first year, 16 missionaries were called to serve the fledgling faith, church records show.

From an early age, Mormon children are taught to sing “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission.” To be called on a mission is considered the greatest of honors.

Starting at 19, young men (referred to as elders) may be called to serve two-year missions. Young women (sisters), starting at 21, serve for 18 months. And wherever they go, they travel in same-sex pairs.

A missionary does not choose where he or she will serve.

The would-be missionary completes an application, which is then sent with other materials to LDS Church headquarters by that missionary’s stake president. A stake is sort of like a diocese; it’s the church body that oversees a group of LDS Church congregations, referred to as wards.

At LDS Church headquarters, members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles pray for divine inspiration before making mission assignments. In April of this year, Ronald Rasband, a general authority in the church, spoke about once witnessing the process when he addressed Mormons at a semiannual conference.

On one large computer screen, photographs of would-be missionaries appeared, he said. Another screen showed areas of the world where the LDS Church has missions. Before doing anything, the apostle knelt in prayer. He would envision where the missionary might go and study medical records, comments from the stake presidents and bishops, and any other materials submitted.

“Finally, as he was prompted by the Spirit, he would assign the missionary to his or her field of labor,” Rasband said. “This general method is typical each week as Apostles of the Lord assign scores of missionaries to serve throughout the world.”

The young adult finds out where he or she is going in a “mission call letter.” The call could take a missionary to places as various as Bolivia, Uganda or Kentucky.

Smart received her mission call letter, which sent her to Paris, France, in September 2009, according to the church-owned newspaper Deseret News.

Standing before family and friends, as most soon-to-be missionaries do, Smart opened her call letter, her father Ed Smart told the newspaper.

“She starts screaming and we’re wondering, ‘Where is it?’ And then she starts reading it,” the paper reported him saying. “We’re thrilled. It couldn’t be better. … It’s away from all this. Some of the celebrity type issues won’t be there. We couldn’t be happier for her.”

The newspaper also reported that during her captivity Smart was forced to write in a diary each night, and  at the bottom of each page she would write messages in French that her captors couldn't read.

Last fall's competency hearing for the man accused of abducting Smart, Brian David Mitchell, was scheduled to allow her testimony in court before she began her mission. She returned temporarily from her mission to testify further in Mitchell's federal trial on charges of  kidnapping and taking a minor across state lines for sex.

Before leaving for their destinations, missionaries report to one of the church’s missionary training centers. There they engage in spiritual study and, depending on where they’ll be traveling, intensive language classes for up to eight weeks.

New arrivals, dressed to proselytize in suits or modest skirts and always wearing name badges, are partnered up with companions who are further along in their missions. Under the guidance of mission presidents, stationed in the field, these young Latter-day Saints set out to serve.

The mission presidents and their wives act as surrogate parents to the missionaries, and local LDS Church families look out for them, too, often hosting them for meals.

Smart, like other missionaries, has in many respects been cut off from the wider world. A typical missionary is only allowed two calls home a year - on Mother’s Day and Christmas Day. In extenuating circumstances, perhaps like Smart's, exceptions are made. The church could not verify how much phone contact she’s had with her family.

But the odds are she has not followed the ins-and-outs leading up to Mitchell’s trial. Her commitment is elsewhere.

 

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Courts • France • Mormonism • Utah

soundoff (1,111 Responses)
  1. Faith is a joke

    Mormidiots

    November 9, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  2. TC

    There are so many ignorant comments aimed at nothing more than to tear down someone else's personal beliefs and decisions. Just be happy for a girl who has found something that makes her happy after such a terrible part of her life and stop trying to tear down what you don't understand.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  3. Bluecarpet

    Does the Morman church help those who cannot afford to go but want to do so? It seems a bit discriminatory that only those that can afford to go can do so. There must be others who want to but cannot and, therefore, feel the guilt that some posters have mentioned.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
    • Andy

      Bluecarpet. Yes, those who cannot fund their mission, or who cannot fully fund their mission are able to participate. As church members, we can donate to the Missionary fund, which helps fund the mission of members of our Ward, Stake, and the Church as a whole (in that order). Often times, wealthier members of a Ward will fully or partially sponsor a less affluent missionary in/from their Ward The point being to do what you can to fund your mission, but after everything you can do, you still need help, the help will be provided.

      November 9, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  4. richard

    I have seen passionate persons of faith/religion- but their passion is almost always second in level to those who do not believe in their committment to change the persons of faith to be like them..... it is almost a relgious passion that most of the 700 commentators on this blog have (and other places) to convert people to be like them. very very odd indeed. Almost funny the same comments and logic by religious persons are used by non faithful persons...... for ex: pick who said it: 1)Trust me i am right and smarter than you? religious or not? 2) Do it my way or you are stupid? religious or not? 3) Do it my way or suffer and just be wrong- because I am right... 4)I cannot prove I am right– but I am.... 5) Historical evidence proves I am right–I am.... 6) ON and ON and ON – you are a funny bunch of fry cooks waiting to go to work..... just sayin

    November 9, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  5. irongoat81

    she's really pretty. too bad she's into fairy tales.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  6. jesus christ

    A false religion in which millions will burn in hell including Elizabeth Smart.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
    • Gene

      Thank you for that great thought, Jesus. You would know best.

      November 9, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
  7. Banlow

    What a tough life she has ahead of her.........

    November 9, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  8. Harold

    It's very interesting that every time there is an article that touches of issues such as faith or God, a whole lot of people who say they have no faith and that God doesn't exist, write numerous comments. Funny how much time and thought in composing their posts, they dedicate to something they don't care about....as if they are faithfully doing someone's work who exists only to fight God......

    November 9, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  9. Chulla

    So she gets abducted by a crazy Mormon cult guy spends 8 months two blocks from her house and now is a national hero cause she's out bothering people in france only in America is suppose. The Mormon religion first of off is not Christian because it believes in more prophets after Jesus. It's a new weird religion set up by Joseph smith in the 1800s to get money ,land, and women. Then big ham young killed 8 federal agents and all most started a full scale insurgency to not pay taxes. Now the mormons go around perching anti gay hate every chance they can get and being complete idiot racists. I mean they actually believe the native Americans skin is "red" because it's a punishment from god. The Mormons and all " faith" based religions (buddihism and a few of those other religions get a pass by me) are irrational, violent, and dangerous. Also if you take a child and start teaching them about faith and the great not there of course there going to believe it. Religon should be illegal till you are 18 or 21 just like other dangerous drugs like tobbaco and alcohol. It

    November 9, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • Gene

      To all those who don't quite understand the LDS church(mormons). Before criticizing or accusing it, please try to understand and look into it sincerely. I am a member of the LDS church and cannot count how many times people close their minds to any of our beliefs because of lies and rumors passed around. I served a mission as well over in South Korea, and even over there people would accuse my beliefs and the LDS church of things they had only heard and had been taught by others. For example, us not being christians. That boggles my mind how people sincerely think that. If they TRULY knew about our deep beliefs, they would know that is a huge slap in the face to say that. That is what our ENTIRE beliefs are centered on, the Savior Jesus Christ. There are so many more i could go on listing, but the main point i want to ask in all sincerity of heart: Please don't go around spreading rumors and accusing any belief you may not fully understand. Be open minded. Learn about things you may not understand. Even if you find in the end its not for you, the mature and best method is to respect our beliefs by finding out what we truly believe. Thank you!

      November 9, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  10. Debbie

    After reading all the comments posted, I have to say that I am proud to be an American. I am grateful that I live in a country where we have freedom to openly post our differences in opinion about faith and religion. I just wish we could do it without standing in judgment of others. I believe we all have faith. Sometimes faith is is in a higher being, sometimes faith is ourselves. Sometimes faith is a combination of both. If Miss Smart's faith has gotten her through one of the most horrible things a personan can experience, then who are we to judge that faith. If she had instead chose to live in fear and anger and hate, then her abductors would still be holding her mentally hostage and I don't think any of us would have wanted that for her. We may not understand her faith, but then again, most of us can't truly understand what she has been through either.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  11. Charles

    *Changed name not to be confused with other David,

    I'm a rather spiritual person, not religious mind you. After my time with "the church", I find it hard to believe that any child that would "chooses" to go on these types of missions isn't pressured by their family and community to partake. Those that think that this doesn't happen are just kidding themselves. And no, Mormon's are not Christians, no matter what they say. They have too many different ideas and thoughts on god and heaven. And Christians....most you see today, unfortunately, the ones you see on the news and newspapers, portrayed as intolerant and letting their religious views influence their political choices, are unfortunately the majority. As far as I can see, their chruch is in a huge need of a wake up call. More and more young people have become disenfranchised with Christianity because of hypocrisy and the fact that msot don't want to be your friend, but convert you so that they feel good. Christians nowadays, as one christian church put up on a roadside sign, are jerks.

    With Elizabeth, I'm glad she's okay, but I see her going on this 'mission" to be doing more harm than good. Her psyche is obviously harmed, and letting her delve deeper into religion so soon after her kidnapping is not only irresponsible, but is also ridiculous. I'd never wish this only any child when they are so vulnerable.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  12. SAM

    Hey, a girl who spent 9 months chained to a tree should probably be forced to do more things alone and have a bunch of restrictions set upon her. Sounds awesome.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  13. bxgrrl

    "By teaching the gospel and baptizing others, the homegrown U.S. religion has grown to about 14 million" Does that figure include those who are baptized after death?

    November 9, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
    • John Pack Lambert

      Not only does the LDS Church membership figure not include those who are baptized after death, it does not include those who were baptized and have since died.

      November 13, 2010 at 4:03 am |
  14. Brian

    Mormons are SUCH a cult. Here is just a short list of their crazy beliefs:
    -We are free to choose, but our choices have consequences; we are accountable for our choices.
    -We should abstain from products that addict and take away our power to choose.
    -The highest and best use of our time is to serve and help others.
    -The family is essential to happiness here and in the hereafter.
    -Husbands and wives must be committed to love and serve each other, and to love and serve their children.
    -We are children of God, not a random, Darwinian accident.
    -Christ was the only perfect person to live on earth; we often fall far short of His example, but we must never stop trying.

    What a bunch of loons . . .

    By the way, Elizabeth Smart is free to leave/quit her mission any time she chooses to do so. A number of Mormon missionaries quit each year and go home.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  15. Charles

    *Changed name not to be confused with other david

    I'm a rather spiritual person, not religious mind you. After my time with "the church", I find it hard to believe that any child that would "chooses" to go on these types of missions isn't pressured by their family and community to partake. Those that think that this doesn't happen are just kidding themselves. And no, Mormon's are not Christians, no matter what they say. They have too many different ideas and thoughts on god and heaven. And Christians....most you see today, unfortunately, the ones you see on the news and newspapers, portrayed as intolerant and letting their religious views influence their political choices, are unfortunately the majority. As far as I can see, their chruch is in a huge need of a wake up call. More and more young people have become disenfranchised with Christianity because of hypocrisy and the fact that msot don't want to be your friend, but convert you so that they feel good. Christians nowadays, as one christian church put up on a roadside sign, are jerks.

    With Elizabeth, I'm glad she's okay, but I see her going on this 'mission" to be doing more harm than good. Her psyche is obviously harmed, and letting her delve deeper into religion so soon after her kidnapping is not only irresponsible, but is also ridiculous. I'd never wish this only any child when they are so vulnerable.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  16. secali

    Most Mormons don't even know what their own church believes. Old Joe was a great scammer, working in treasure hunting, magic spells and other people's wives. Come on, he translated the Book of Mormon with magic glasses as he stared into a hat. Dig a little. Read about the real history of this church. Jesus in America. Native Americans from the Middle East. Black people being cursed and becoming white as the curse is lifted. Science continually undermines their beliefs, but they keep a chugging along. "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer does a good job of exploring the church's history. The irony here is she was kidnapped and brainwashed by a man who was street rat crazed with the religion she's selling in Paris. For more, visit exmormon.org. That all said, I still wish here peace and healing throughout her life. Rock on, you crazy saints.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  17. Nicole

    Wow. I couldn't believe the accuracy of this article. I don't think I've read another "report" on mormons that explains better what missionaries do. Way to go, CNN. And props to Elizabeth. What a courageous woman to try and do some good when she's been through so much horror.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  18. dennis

    mormons are not christians in the historical sense. they insisted on being called christians only lately in order to appear more mainstream. their core beliefs are in direct contradiction to basic christianity so dont deny it or you will be denying your faith altogether. Please, explain Kolob and that stuff – the magical underwear – the secrecy of the temple – saying those not deemed worthy cannot enter the temple, also in direct contradiction to Jesus' teachings. remember the pharisees??? idiot cult –

    November 9, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
    • Anne

      In the slight hope that you have any interest in the truth about "Mormonism" let me share their 13 Articles of Faith:
      1 We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
      2 We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
      3 We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
      4 We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
      5 We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
      6 We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.
      7 We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.
      8 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
      9 We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
      10 We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
      11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
      12 We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
      13 We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

      November 10, 2010 at 2:17 am |
  19. civilioutside

    Pascale's Wager (the proposition that you're better off believing than not believing because the consequences of being wrong if God should happen to exist far exceed the consequences of being wrong if he doesn't) has got to be one of the worst arguments in favor of faith. And sadly, it seems to be one of those most resorted to. The basic argument boild down to "You should believe whatever pack of myths promises the greatest rewards for belief coupled with the greatest penalty for nonbelief. And since Christianity promises infinite reward versus infinite penalty, we win because nothing can be greater than infinity." Truth is nowhere to be found in this argument, and there isn't even lip-service to trying to find it. It's pure scare-tactic.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  20. Jobe

    "She’s been cut off from television, barred from seeing movies and prohibited from following the news. The only music she hears is church-approved. She wakes at 6:30 a.m. everyday to study the gospel by herself and with another young woman missionary known as her companion."

    Sounds like a cult to me.

    Personally I think religion is an ancient way to enforce laws without actually having police. It allowed people to have morals that told them what is right and wrong and to not fear eachother. Today I believe that the only use for religion is for moral support and guidance. Some people refuse to believe that the first religions were created to police a society. Why? because people dedicate thier lives to religion and no one wants to hear that they dedicated thier lives to something that stems from moral teachings and policing ancient societies. Talk to this girl and you will find she has waisted her life but has great morals.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.