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. Bill In STL

    This is all very nice, but I need to point out that you have the ability to choose. The book of Genesis descibes the story very well. It seems that most everybody here has chosen, and that is cool. But I have a question, you that are atheists on this thread, are you proseltyzing? (the act or attempt to convert people to another opinion) If this is truly the case you are no better than the religous you so enthusiastically harrass.

    November 9, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  2. Google Mountain Meadows And See Morman Cult

    The mormans have tried to reinvent their history by calling themselves the "Latter Day Saints." Much like prune producers have successfullly changed the prune to "dried plum. The corn industry is trying to get the FDA to let them change corn syrup to "corn sugar." Everybody know a morman is morman.

    November 9, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  3. MashaSobaka

    I’m glad that Elizabeth Smart is finding peace in her life. I just wish it wasn’t through one of the most culturally destructive practices in human creation. Entire cultures and belief systems have been obliterated by missionary work. Granted, for the missionaries, this isn’t a problem, because they consider anyone not belonging to their faith to be condemned…but from a humanitarian perspective it is a devastating loss. There are ways to serve people without stripping their culture away from them as if it were a dangerous disease. But, like I said, churches have other priorities.

    November 9, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  4. Iqbal khan

    Don't just have faith to beleive check and ask for proof and do the research........


    November 9, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  5. Google Mountain Meadows And See Morman Cult

    The only thing that would make the Morman church goofyer is if Tom Cruize came out and said he was a Morman.

    November 9, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  6. Kate

    Sounds like everyone that is being talked about, always ends up being negative. I'm glad that Elizabeth Smart is home safe and is living the life she deserves.

    November 9, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  7. Google Mountain Meadows And See Morman Cult

    The morman were forced out of every town they tried to settle in because of the cult atmosphere they brought with them. Joseph Smith was killed while jailed in Carthage, Illinois on charges relating to his ordering the destruction of facilities producing a newspaper whose first and only edition claimed Smith was practicing polygamy and that he intended to set himself up as a theocratic king.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  8. Tom

    I can never understand why so many people feel so uncomfortable with individuals having faith or lack there of. Nobody understands this mysterious universe of ours.

    As a Berkeley physics student, I can assure you that there is much more unknown that know.

    Read, study, talk to people and formulate
    your own beliefs or establish faith. Avoid telling others that they are going to hell or believe in the Easter Bunny... Respect others and be open to the possibilities.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  9. ex

    When I was young and impressionable I was babtised into this cult. I remember reading a morman book that said black people sined against god and thats why they ar black. Did Joseph Smith pull that out of the hat as well.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  10. skfromnc

    One writer states the Mormons do not believe in the divinity of Christ. Explain how they do not believe in Jesus Christ as all Christians do, please. I have a son and will check on this but I want feedback on this. My son is Mormon.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  11. Google Mountain Meadows And See Morman Cult

    There is no evidence that a book of morman ever existed. Only Joseph Smiths writtings that say he was visited by an angel "Maroni.' That showed him where the book was. Joseph said he traslated it by putting it under a hat and looked through a rock. After which he returned it to the spot he found it.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
  12. rob-Mo

    I just read all of the posts on this blog. All I can say is what some others have said. America was founded on religious freedom and as a member of the LDS Church, I find it sad that others feel comfortable treating my precious religion with such disrespect.

    I served a Mission in the South in the mid-60's. My first companion was from Colorado Springs. After he joined the church at age
    18 he was kicked out of his home by his parents who never went to church. A dentist in his local congregation invited him to live with their large family, and told him he wanted to pay for his mission. With just over a year in the church, this young man was an outstanding missionary and and only received one letter from his family – telling him not to send letters to them because they
    were all being thrown away unopened.

    My first Junior Companion was from a wealthy family in Utah and was promised a new car and college paid for by his parents if he went on a mission. His girl friend also said she would not marry him if he didn't serve. It was a real challenge to help him learn
    to love the gospel and be an effective missionary. I felt we made some progress during the time we were together and hoped he would continue to grow.

    About 10 months later, the mission had a Zone Leader Conference in Atlanta. This young man came to the Conference as a Zone Leader.(A Zone Leader has responsibility for a large group of missionaries). He saw me and tears came to his eyes and he
    apologized that he was such a jerk and wasted so much of the time we were together and perhaps six months of his mission before he caught the spirit of the work. He said he was working extra hard to make up for those lost months.

    While in the Mission Home, a leader from Salt Lake came to tour our mission. He then had a meeting with those of us who
    served in the Mission Headquarters. He said the main reason to go on a mission is to give others the opportunity to learn about
    the Gospel Of Jesus Christ. The second reason is to develop missionaries to be future leaders in the church. We have
    no paid ministry in the LDS church. A regular member, who has a full-time job not related to the church is called to be a Bishop,
    which is like a Pastor in another church. I had the blessing and opportunity to be a Bishop 20 years ago and know that my
    mission experience was a great help in that position.

    I am the father of 8 children, 4 boys and 4 girls, and between 1980 and 1993, three of those children died. My three surviving sons did not go on missions, which was sad to me but not a major concern. I did my best to help them understand that their two sisters and brother who died were children of Heavenly Father, and he can call them home at any time. The death of those children put my religion to the test and I became a stronger member from that experience.

    There was a conference last Spring in Washington, D. C., to honor various organizations and churches and the Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints was honored as the church, (in the U.S.) who donated the most aid around the world than any other religion.

    We recently donated several jumbo jets (all cargo airplanes) of supplies, including medical items, food, tents, generators, etc.,
    to help the people of Pakistan after the devastating floods. How many Mormons, (our nickname) live in that country.....8.
    We work with the Catholic Relief Organization and other organizations to help distribute the items we send where needed and because of our extensive storehouse in Salt Lake, we are often the first organization to arrive where aid is needed.
    A leader of the Catholic Relief Organization once thanked our church for the love they show to God's children and added that
    there are actually some who don't believe these people are Christians.

    I see no reason to find fault with a person's religion. We should concentrate on building each other up.

    Last Spring, the pianos in our building were replaced with new ones. The one in the chapel was in excellent condition and
    had great sound quality, (I play the piano by ear). The Bishop of our ward decided he would give the piano to the church in
    town who was always saying negative things about our religion. He called the pastor and asked him if they could use a nice
    piano, which he said they could. He came to our building and looked at the piano and said it looks new – it was actually 30 years old. He then asked how much we wanted for it. The Bishop said we were not charging anything. The Bishop then asked if their
    building needed any chairs since they were also being replaced. I would have loved to have been there for this experience.

    Life is short. Be positive. Several people said they don't agree with our doctrine but know Mormon's who are very nice people,
    which is nice to hear.

    Best wishes!

    November 9, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  13. Google Mountain Meadows And See Morman Cult

    Joseph Smith says the book of Morman was written by native americans who were descendants of jews. The LSTD church itself sponsered a study to find DNA in the native american to support this teaching. They found none.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  14. Kyle

    I served a mission in Madagascar and it was incredibly difficult, wonderful, depressing, uplifting, and fascinating in every way. Before I went, I had done year of college and my life did not have much overall direction. After two years of missionary work in Madagascar, I knew that I wanted to become a doctor. Needless to say, I would not compare my personal experience to everyone else who serves a mission. I worked hard and now, a few years later, I am in medical school. I know that a lot of people have issues with the church and its members, but for me personally everything good in my life is connected to the church and its teachings. Paul warned all believers that many false prophets would arise to deceive the elect and I have heard people make the case that every modern prophet from Joseph Smith to the current prophet, Thomas Monson, are in fact false prophets. From my personal experience, their testimony of the savior has only enriched my discipleship of our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ. My parents have been blessed for their faithful membership in the church. My younger brother is serving a mission in British Columbia and he absolutely loves it. I am happy for Elizabeth and for every young person who chooses freely to serve a mission because I know that they are going to have the experience of a lifetime as God guides them to the humble and pure in heart who are ready to learn more about Jesus Christ and his gospel of hope for all mankind. We live in a day and age where it is popular to argue and contend but it seems to me that there has never been any shortage of negativity in this world. Whatever our beliefs, religious and otherwise, each one of us has the opportunity to make the world a little brighter every day. Every interaction that we have, whether it is an anonymous internet post or a smile to someone on the street has the power to change someone's world. Sometimes it is overwhelming to realize the potential that we have within ourselves to change the people and world around us and I think that most of the time I am too afraid to act on that potential.

    Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, "Whatever you are, be a good one." I am a medical student and a husband. I believe that my active membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints will make me a good doctor and a good husband, not perfect, but the best that I can personally be. I will always remain loyal to the church because of the strength that it gives me, to live a life full of happiness despite my personal challenges and weaknesses. If you are reading this, I wish you the best. We are all spiritually brothers and sisters and I think that is why sometimes we relate so well to each other, as well as why we fight like cats and dogs at other times. So to the internet cynics who love slamming the church, go for it! If that is what you believe, then you should shout it at the top of your lungs until you have made your voice heard. For my part, I am trying to follow the counsel in 1 Peter 3:15. I will "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks (me) to give the reason for the hope that (I) have. But do this with gentleness and respect." If you are as sincere in your beliefs as I am in mine, I would always enjoy the opportunity to talk about what makes us different and what makes us the same. Isn't life awesome? Wherever you are out there, be safe and take care.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  15. Sheri

    Our son just returned from his mission to El Salvador. His father serve years ago in France. and when our children are grown, we plan to go on at least one mission as a couple. It is the opportunity of a lifetime. Nobody is forced to go. It is a choice. Thank you to the author of this very excellant article ! You did an excellant job of presenting what we as Mormons believe in. I'm quite sure that Elizabeth has endured this trial in her life becaue of her faith. That is what our religion is all about; helping us imperfect people to endure the trials of our individual lives and become better people in the end. Not all of us are as successful at living our religion to the fullest, but it certainly looks as though Elizabeth Smart is doing a good job over overcoming trials and reaching out to help others.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  16. sarcat

    Interesting that someone who doesn't believe in Jesus Christ is telling me, someone who does, that I don't. I'm a Christian, a Mormon and a person with faith. No one can take that away.

    And when I served my mission I chose to keep the mission rules. I wasn't brain washed into it 'cause it was difficult and to be honest not much fun. Still the right thing to do however as a "Believer"

    November 9, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  17. Heythere

    I was a missionary with Elizabeth Smart in Paris. I was only there with her for about 4 months before I finished my two-year mission but she was a great missionary! I had quite a few opportunities to speak with her and she is a normal girl, just like everyone else and was doing a really good job. I bet coming home and having to deal with all of this again was hard for her.

    November 9, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  18. WOW!!

    Did you see her ass in that latest video of her going onto court? That girl is rockin' one hell of a butt. Dayumm...

    November 9, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  19. http://mormon.org/

    The Truth About Mormons: http://mormon.org/

    November 9, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
  20. W.G.

    want to know what mormons think got to realmormonhistory.com

    November 9, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
    • http://mormon.org/

      Go to http://mormon.org/. You don't go to Honda to ask about Fords do you?

      November 9, 2010 at 3:40 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.