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. God

    A spiritual journey that forever sequesters her feelings in a shroud of denial and delusion. How sad that a precious human life is so wasted.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
  2. Shaun Brown

    If you don't get it, perhaps you should invite a missionary, like Elizabeth Smart, to come to your home and teach you about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then could make a more informed decision about whether you consider her Church a cult.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • Did that...

      I invited the missionaries over. Went through three sessions. Read the Book of Mormon. The faith is absolutely, completely a cult, right down to the creepy "I KNOW THIS TO BE TRUE!" claim I heard verbatim from every member. I experienced a returning missionary feeling the word of God by talking in the native language of the place he'd gone to on his mission (I was invited as the ward project). Only it was my native language – and I could tell the kid was just trying to impress his parents. He couldn't speak the language. He was speaking jibberish. All of my new friends in the ward? Immediately shunned me when I said I wouldn't be converting. Not only that – they will actively go to the other side of a street if they see me.

      November 9, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
  3. MillieD

    To learn or read more go to:


    Also...Mormon Messages on Youtube "In the spirit of Thanksgiving"


    November 9, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  4. LMT

    Good for Elizabeth! I think is remarkable that she would go and serve a mission and bring the truth, as she and those of her faith see it, to as many as she can in France. After all she went through she still remains a God-loving person, and a person who wants to do so much good. May God bless her in her life.

    November 9, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  5. Returned LDS missionary

    To all the unbelieving posters...there are two types of knowledge, and two different ways to obtain that knowledge. One type of knowledge is physical knowledge. The scientific method is powerful and useful in gaining this type of knowledge which must be based on empirical evidence. The other type of knowledge is spiritual. This knowledge can only be obtained through the exercise of faith. When one qualifies to receive spiritual knowledge, they know with a certainty that it is real.

    Simply put, with physical knowledge, seeing leads to believing. With spiritual knowledge, believing leads to seeing.

    Mock all you want, but for those who have qualified for this knowledge, we know it is not delusional, nor a hysteria of the mind as you suggest. Just because you have not gained this knowledge yourself, doesn't mean the rest of us have not. You just haven't followed the path to get there yet.

    November 9, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  6. ST

    Thank you Jessica Ravitz for your work on this article 🙂

    November 9, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  7. mack

    Read Jon Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven." There is a lot to be learned about Mormonism that is not well known. The press should be doing a better job describing this religion and how it factors into the Smart case.

    November 9, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  8. PCollen

    I've never really seen Mormon missionaries do anything, except ride around on their bikes. Evey one I've seen, at whatever time of day, is always in-transit. They never have come around any neighborhood I've lived in (and I've lived in many and in several States), unlike the Jehovah's Witnesses who are always out walking the streets and knocking on doors on Saturday's.

    November 9, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  9. Zach

    This article has a fair amount of inaccurate infomation.

    Missionary work is not required, though males are expected to go on a mission. Females are not expected to go on a mission (but it is very popular for young women to go on a mission.) A good friend of mine in college decided to not delay college and did not go on a mission, he still is in good standing with the church (In fact, he teaches sunday school). The only flak he had for not going was from his dad.

    Missionaries do have a scedule to keep, as they are taking on a full time unpaid job. yes, they give up TV, Boyfriends/girlfriends, travel to a location away from home and do service and missionary activies, but it is not like they do not know what they are signing up for.

    The Majority of Mormons I know are good people who try to live what they preach, and while Not Drinking or smoking, living a family centered life, faith in Jesus, and service might be "old fashoned" in today's society, our society would be a lot better if more 19-21 year olds gave up two years for service for something they belived in, be it to share their faith or save a endangered animal.

    November 9, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  10. Fred

    You know it strikes me that there are so many religious leaders, John Rutherford, Charles Taze Russel, Joseph Smith, the Pope, the list goes on and on. The leaders claims are different...there doctrins are different. Threy all believe God spoke to them...but what God said to them contradict each other. They can't all be right. I am a Christian, and I believe when Jesus hung on the cross or tree or whatever...He said " IT IS FINISHED " I believe that. Why then do so many leaders feel they need to add to the claims of Christ, as if to say what He did was not quite enough. God came to us and set the standard in love. " It Is Finished" That is why I feel these religions who think they can come up with new ways to reach God or new standards by way we need to live. be careful of these religions, they will lead you astray.

    November 9, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
    • just sayin

      Interesting... what are you saying the "It" is? I believe it to mean His mortal ministry, but clearly you believe something else. I hope you're still around to enlighten me....

      November 9, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
  11. Fishfash

    This is going to sound terrible but..WHY DO WE STILL CARE ABOUT HER?!?!?

    November 9, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  12. John

    Good article, I appreciate the homework CNN did on the topic. I am a Mormon, was a missionary and thoroughly enjoyed my experience. It was never about sightseeing, but really teaching the gospel to those that wished to listen to it. I was actually a missionary at the time Elizabeth was abducted and really felt that it made a lot of people want to learn about this LDS culture in Utah. I'm glad she got her life back and has moved forward. I've seen her every now and then on BYU campus, and really wanted to say I was just happy for her and her family.

    November 9, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  13. Johnathan

    Totally brain-washed

    November 9, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
  14. Drew

    @Keith – Yeah, it just did the same thing to me!

    November 9, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  15. does not worship joseph smith only Jesus


    November 9, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  16. Fred

    You know, the profound words of Jesus while giving up His spirit on the cross, "IT IS FINISHED". Why do so many religions of the world who proclaim to believe in Christ feel the need to add to His accomplishments, like what He did was not enough. After he died and He said " It IS ACCOMPLISHED" why are there so many religious leaders coming up with new claims. Joseph Smith, Charles Taze Russel, The Pope, The list goes on and on, and yet their beliefs are profoundly different, and their set of rules and regulations are so different. They can't all be right. I do believe God came to us, on His terms not ours. When He said " IT IS FINISHED" it is finished.

    November 9, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  17. keithm

    The question is not whether Mormons are Christians – it is whether or not a Mormon believes the mainline protestant denominations are Christian. The LDS church was founded because Joe Smith believed all denominations are apostate. They believe they are the only true Christian church. With this belief, mainline Protestantism and Mormonism can't both be right.

    I know the atheists will say neither are right. To each their own. I used to be one too.

    November 9, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
    • Jon

      I like your observation. For more info on the people who call themselves "mormons" go to http://mormon.org/.

      November 9, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  18. Brian Logical

    "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."

    What a joke. Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb!

    November 9, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  19. W.G.

    She´s had such a tragic start in her life , I hope the best for her and that she finds the real Jesus
    and becomes a real Christian . I just wish that these people would´nt go out into the world
    spreading the false gospel that they believe in . Can you imagine how perverted it is to
    believe that Jesus and satan were brothers . Joseph Smith was a murderer was´nt he ?

    November 9, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  20. Brian Logical

    "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."

    What a joke. Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb!

    November 9, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
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