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. mike

    These poor brainwashed cultist freaks. mor(m)onism is one glass of koolaide away from jonestown. We live in a profoundly stupid world.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  2. AlbanyMike

    The motivation for having faith and following a moral code is highly suspect. That is, are you following this code because you fear eternal punishment if you don't (and eternal reward if you do), or do you do it because it's the right thing to do. The latter is much harder because it does not promise any reward. In my mind, those who adhere to a strict moral code, give to charity, and do other good works without the element of faith are the more evolved among us because they know it's the right thing to do. If faith drives you to do these things, then you are really only acting out of fear of what will happen to you in the "hereafter" if you do not. If this is you, then try taking a few steps forward along the evolutionary path because you have fallen behind.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  3. epona

    What ever happened to a "SPEEDY" trial? This could have been taken care of long ago.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
    • CL

      They did try to take care of this a long time ago. There were far too many mental evaluations on the defendant (I like the way Elizabeth Smart is referring to him as this rather than his given name).

      November 10, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  4. Robert

    Most of you are confusing what faith is. If I say I believe in unicorns and have no proof, this is not faith but lunacy. If I, however, after hearing stories about unicorns, encounter an animal resembling a horse but with a horn, or hear about someone who has seen such an animal, then I make a decision by faith to belief whether this is a unicorn, a freak accident of nature, or a big lie. I certainlty wasn´t around when Jesus came to earth, however, thousands of people claim that they have met him or know of someone who have met him and there are numerous stories detailing these encounters. After checking the validity of these testimonies, making sure they make sense, since I cannot 100% guarantee that they are all in fact accurate, then it is by faith that I decide whether to believe or not to believe. Whether I beileve in unicorns or not is trivial and I may chose not to further investigate. However, believing that a divine being is responsible for my well being for eternity is crucial and of utmost importance and, whether I end up believing in Jesus or not, I ought to at least investigate dilligently and spent a good amount of my time here on earth pursuing such end.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  5. Sarah S

    I am so impressed with these young people and the time they set aside and the commitment they make for a religion they really believe in. The fact that these people are willing to cut themselves off from distracting media and the hubbub of the world is really impressive to me. It's refreshing to see something other than people who have to be constantly pugged in and just think of "me, me me". We need more people who are willing to give something up for something they believe in and to give service to others.

    God bless Elizabeth Smart during the trial. It must be horrible to have to relive all of that.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  6. Dennis

    Ah, another article that allows atheists a forum to be heard. It's so nice to know you're not alone in your beliefs (or non-beliefs as the case may be), isn't it?

    For those of you who are actually interested in KNOWING the truth, let me share something: I had faith for a very long time in God. When my wife died at the age of 25 I clung to my faith and prayed for help. I received a vision which gave me a perfect KNOWLEDGE of the afterlife. As you say, having SEEN it, I now KNOW it. Such can only happen after faith has been exercised. As an historian, I am well-educated, but I can tell you my faith is not blind. Of course, you'll never receive this knowledge for yourself until you're willing to search with an open-heart and exercise faith yourself.

    It's sad, really. After all my education, it was my faith that made me SMARTER THAN STEPHEN HAWKING.

    God bless Elizabeth Smart for her endurance and may she be aided in bringing others to God.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  7. StemcellResearch

    @Believer Hope for what?? You can be thankful that your alive. As a believer you just dont get it.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  8. NoSaint

    Fenris – you have proven yourself to be a total idiot, Misionaries serve in all countries and all neiborhoods. We've had two shot to death in the worst part of newport News, VA. What makes you think people that live in Paris are undeserving of hearing the word from these dedicated young men? yes – I am a member of the Mormon Church, but I do not believe all they teach, in fact that's one of the tenets of the religion, free agency , freedom to choose. It's the only way to learn and grow.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  9. April

    Although I am not LDS or even particularly religious, letting the missionaries into our home a year ago has brought all wonderful changes to my teenagers. They were a blessing for my children that were wondering off the good path. They gave our children focus, faith, helped them with their school stress. Their grades are up through the roof now.
    We have the missionaries over twice a week and feed them once a month or more.
    How wonderful to do so much positive, after being through so much negative. Bless you honey. You are in our minds and hearts. You bring light to this world. And we are very grateful for that:)

    November 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • Kimbooly

      I appreciate your comments, April. And I'm so pleased your children are doing well. I love when we feel we can glean good from any experiences, and I'm glad to hear that mormon missionaries added good to the good you've already brought your kids. I believe it takes a village. : )

      November 11, 2010 at 3:16 am |
  10. Josh W

    I'm glad this story had a happy ending, meaning the girl is back with family. But this story also has a valuable lesson...If you're going to hire an unlicensed scab off the black market to do your chores in order to save money...hire illegal immigrants! They are always polite and have a strong sense of community and family responsibility. Hiring a homeless man to work on your million dollar estate is asking for trouble and irresponsible parenting if you have small children.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • neurorn


      November 9, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  11. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Wakeup people, you work along side Mormons everyday and don't see them different because you don't know they are Mormon. But the minute the word Mormon comes into your mind it's something mythical about being Mormon. I am not Mormon but have found them to be very delightful and sometimes funny, just like non-Mormons.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • Josh W

      It's true. All people believe strange things when you break it down and analyze it. The true test of our character is how accepting we are of those who don't believe exactly as we do.

      November 9, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  12. jackson

    These anti religion posts are exactly why this country has gone down the drain.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • msn453

      ...and organized religion is just one of the reasons why we have deep divisions among society which, oftentimes, results in conflict and loss of life.

      Not trying to pick on your post, I'm just pointing out the other side of your view.

      November 10, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  13. luvmy2k9s

    It is an amazing blessing to have faith.. For those of you who do not "believe".. I have complete "faith" that you will the moment you are face-to-face with your Saviour. You will weep with the incredible love that you'll feel.. This life and our subsequent deaths are simply part of the journey to be reunited with our Father in Heaven. He loves each one of us so very much and wants all his children to return to him. He knows each of us individually and by our doing our best to be kind, compassionate and offer service to others, returning to Him is possible!

    November 9, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  14. KT

    It is amazing to me that you all would spend so much time criticizing religion and faith when there are so many ills in the world today, why don't you all put your time to good use and do something to make the world we live in a better place. It has always bothered me that those who bash faith and religion explain that a person who believes in God, or testify of the truth of His existence, have been brain washed. Essentially you are saying if you don't believe as you can't think for yourself, but as long as you think as I do you are a liberated thinker.

    One of the basic tenents of the Mormon religion is that we are free to choose. God loves all His children and wants them to know eternal truths,Thus parents and church leaders teach- but we are free to choose whether we live the principles taught or not to as you can see illustrated by the blog posts above.
    And for those of you who bash faith, don't kid yourself, you have faith-Faith in yourself, faith inman and which ever intellectually elite person you identify with- be it scientist or philosopher.

    The God I believe in is all knowing and all powerful, and he sees far more and than any mortal man or woman. He loves us all and wants us all to be happy now and in the eternities. He answers the prayers of all those who sincerely seek him, and he is no respecter of persons. And just because you haven't experienced it, doesn't mean you couldn't, and it certainly doesn't mean that nobody else hasn't experienced His hand in their lives.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  15. Common Sense

    She is a very beautiful girl. I hope she will be able to get past this massive trajedy and be able to live a normal life.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  16. Pat

    Mormans = a whole lot of crazies in a magic underwear cult, spreading their myth like cancer. But you have to feel horrible for what she went through as a young kid. There are countless other kids who went through similar horrors, but don't have the pretty face and wealthy family, so they don't end up on CNN or any other news channel, and don't get the outpouring of support from a media-manipulated public. Those are the ones I feel even more for.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
    • Pat


      November 9, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  17. Victory

    Faith is believing in what is not yet seen. Faith defies logic, therefore, the faithless can not understand it. People get caught up in religion because there are many of them, and you wonder which is the right one. That's why we need a relationship with God the Creator of all, not religion. Jesus is on His way back, and it's sad to say that many will be lost because they simply do not believe. You have to have faith and believe in something...someone. Why not believe in God?

    November 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  18. Jon King

    So she has seen that religion is just a cult used to control people and STILL didn't have the sense to step out if it. Amazing.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  19. neurorn

    I am very happy for Ms. Smart and hope that she continues to distance herself from this terrible pain. However, I have to agree with most of you posting here that it seems religion is a lousy way to heal. I was raised in a fairly religious household, married someone from another faith and over the last ten years have come to the conclusion that faith in a god and organized religion is the most divisive way to conduct one's life. In fact, the most perplexing aspect of religion is prayer. I honestly don't get it. What IS it about sitting in a room filled with a bunch of other "believers" and quietly asking something you can't see, touch, hear or feel for forgiveness or guidance or help or WHATEVER? What the heck is that all about? I believe in humans and THEIR abilities to change their own lives. We don't need a mysterious force. We need to believe in ourselves. Elizabeth Smart is brave and capable of recovering from this horrid mess without a god. She has a supportive family and she has herself. God has nothing to do with it.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  20. BC

    Many atheists actually have blinding faith in their own wisdom and intellect, and that of so-called experts. They stick to it like dogma. In a sense they have become their own God.

    November 9, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
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About this blog

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.