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. 7th Generation

    I just read this and about 200 of the 'comments'. Probably the first time that I have done that. Let's just say tolerance in it's truest form is desired and easier for some people than others. But acting on belief is courageous.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  2. bethradd

    And people wonder why it was so easy for her kidnapper to brainwash her...her mind had already been programmed since birth to be brainwashed...she still is.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  3. Google Mountain Meadows And See Morman Cult

    The Mormans have been famous for making women second class citizens. They were not allowed to do much else other than get knocked up by man who had other wives and serve them. Today, Morman are more interested in being mainstream and so have publicly been less oppressive to women. Now they are more interested in your money.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  4. Google Mountain Meadows And See Morman Cult

    Mormans were kicked out of town after town not because they contributed to the community, but because the leaders came up with self serving debotchery (poligamy).

    November 9, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
    • unafiliated

      Mormons were forced out of Independence, MO by threat of violence because the local citizens feared that Mormons would someday be in the majority and control local politics. The Mormons settled in Clay County, MO. Two years later the honorable citizens of Clay County demanded that the Mormons leave. They gave three reasons 1) Mormons were northerners, 2) Mormons were opposed to slavery, 3) Mormons believed that Native Americans were part of Gods chosen people.

      It seems like you have a lot in common with those who have spouted hatred in the past.

      November 9, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  5. Jonathan

    What an ironic last name.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  6. Crush67


    November 9, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  7. G

    Cult. Enough said.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  8. Josh W

    In the early 1820's there was a Christian preacher named Ethan Smith who wrote a book called "View of the Hebrews". In it are many similarities and parallels to the Book of Mormon which was first published 7 years later, in 1830. Coincidentally, Ethan Smith was the preacher of the church that Oliver Cowdery's family attended in Vermont. Oliver Cowdery, also by coincidence, helped Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism) as his scribe for writing the text to the Book of Mormon.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
    • CL

      I have read both. They are completely different. This story has been proven to be a fabrication from people way back in the day when this manuscript was lost.

      November 10, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  9. Google Mountain Meadows And See Morman Cult

    Joseph Smith said he was able to read the book of morman by putting it under a hat and looking at it with a rock he was holding. Guess what his occupation was before he was a preacher-Treasure hunter with divining rod. When the circus rolled into town Joseph Smith was on it.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  10. Jason Kahl

    Raised Catholic now Lutheran....God Bless her in all her endeavors. Take a deep breath follow your heart, everyone else can bug off!

    November 9, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  11. jinfo

    There is a reason why so many people are responding to this article in a positive way. I'm impressed with how heartfelt these comments are. The mormons must have something worth sharing.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
    • Jon

      They do. Check out mormon.org...learn all about it.

      November 9, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
  12. Truth About Mormons: Mormon.org

    If you want to know the truth about those known as "Mormons" visit Mormon.org.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  13. Google Mountain Meadows And See Morman Cult

    They dressed up as Indians in Mountain Meadow Utah and slaughtered 120 unarmed men, women, and children that were crossing the prairie. They did this so others would think it was Indians.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  14. erin

    im happy for her, and im sure they all mean well. but whats with this converting stuff? cant they help the people that need it without trying to convert them.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  15. Juan Ramirez

    I served a 2 year (and 2 extra weeks!) LDS mission to my now-adopted second home, New Zealand. It was such a great and really hard time all at once. Very difficult, physically and mentally challending time, but I learned a lot about life and service and love through it all. Some of my best buddies came from those times and I've been back to visit and loved it just as much!

    November 9, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  16. stephen_s

    Aren't the words "mission" and "missionary" simply Mormon code words for what is really evangelicalism?

    And to whomever wrote about how missionaries falling in love with the culture in the places they visit, how much understanding and respect really occurs when one's only purpose in a place is to convert others away from their chosen faith or lack of it? How would a missionary react if someone they are trying to convert instead tries to convert THEM to THEIR religion?

    November 9, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
    • Jon

      Good questions. Missionaries don't try to convert people away from their chosen faiths. Rather they give people a choice that doesn't exist absent the missionaries, and they invite others to bring all the good they already have from their own religion and see if there is anything they can add to it. Having been a missionary, I NEVER get offended when Jehova's Witnesses come and knock on my door and try to convert me. On the contrary, I'm happy that there are people out trying to do good in the world.

      If you want to talk directly to missionaries without them coming to your home there is a chat function on Mormon.org for you to use to speak with them and ask them questions!

      November 9, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  17. secali


    While Mormons are generally kind of loving people, their church is nowhere near as nice and Christian as it sounds. I know. I've lived it.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
    • Truth About Mormons: Mormon.org

      Mormon.org is the REAL truth behind those known as "Mormons"

      Always go to the source. You can't learn a lot about Fords by going to the Honda dealership.

      November 9, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
  18. MLasso

    I hate to see this poor woman further victimized by her own family who have brain washed her into believing this absurd story. Right, Joseph Smith found some tablets in the woods. And I found something, too: reason. Folks, when will we start looking for the real truth and not that which has been invented?

    November 9, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
  19. Eric

    A really great piece. As a member of the church I appreciate the tone and the lack of speculation. I served as a missionary in Tijuana Mexico and I know that was were I needed to be. It was a great experience that strengthened my faith and provided me a great foundation of character that has served me since.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  20. MillieD

    If you want to learn or read more go to:


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


    November 9, 2010 at 3:08 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.