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. Telluride

    Frankly, all this "show respect for each side" is nonsense. It's very convenient to say but if believers of christianity are really believers then they think that all the atheists will go to hell to burn for eternity. Do you really think such a belief suffers respect for those same people? In other words, to them, atheists and non-believers are sinners waiting for an angry god to judge them. Where can respect come from? I don't really understand how respect is compatible with these particular doctrines. If there are "true" believers, then they disrespect and despise those who are not. This is pretty much really without question. I know I'm just throwing my words to the wind by posting here though


    November 9, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
    • B.

      Don't know if you'll ever read this, but I saw your words and they didn't go to the wind! haha. Well, I don't know how this got to be atheists vs Christians (as many Christian religions mistakenly claim Mormons are not Christians), but Mormon doctrine does not teach that atheists burn in "hell." It's more complicated than that, but suffice it to say that atheists have just as much of a shot as going to "heaven" as Christians in Mormon doctrine, because Christ loves everyone equally. Isn't that the whole point in believing in Him? The teachings of some of these modern Christian sects confuse me, as well.

      November 9, 2010 at 7:24 pm |
  2. Cindy

    The Mormons should have never been designated a religion. I see no differance between mormons and witchery. Reading a book covered with a hat with a magic stone?

    November 9, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  3. Sue

    This religious cult is the craziest I have ever heard. The more I read the more of a cult I believe it is. Reading a book through a hat by looking through a rock? The mountain meadows massacre where they shot 120 unarmed in the back? Marrying and mounting as many wives as you can convince? Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself, not make love to all your neighbors.

    November 9, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  4. mhharpster

    Best analogy I can think of is the Hitler Youth. Sorry for being insensitive, but it's all bulls**t without any strings attached.

    November 9, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  5. Alex Wilson

    I do feel that I helped many individuals and families during my mission service to Argentina. I helped them improve their relationships with family and God. That is why I know my mission was a success beyond strengthening my personal conversion to Christian principles and following the example of Jesus Christ. If you don't believe those are good things, we can't help you here, today. You will need to think about it further and determine just what you don't appreciate about goodness, kindness, service and joy.

    November 9, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
  6. Alex Wilson

    Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (mormon) strive to live as Jesus did and as Jesus taught as detailed in the New Testament. To me that makes them Christians, not any other designation, qualification, diploma, certificate, or degree. By baptism they enter in with a covenant to follow Jesus Christ, love one another (all races, political partices, nationalities), lift the burdens of others, serve and keep his commandments.

    I appreciate Elizabeth's commitment to live a life of service and to dedicate 18 months to serve Jesus Christ, answering his call to take the gospel to all people in all places, including the sincere and open minded of France. I recommend everyone examine their lives for areas where they can improve their relationship with family, friends, humanity and God. That thru prayer, not chatrooms, they find the truth and God's definition of long-term happiness.

    November 9, 2010 at 6:04 pm |
  7. Walter

    The thing that always bothered me about the two year imaginary mission is the fact that we never really helped anyone. We just harassed everyone about our religion. In my opinion a real mission would be helping people in need with food shelter and care. I suppose the goal is to convince those who you can to buy in enough to start giving money and aid in hoodwinking others. Jesus was all about the least of us that's why I think Mormon church is a cult.

    November 9, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
    • Alex Wilson

      sorry Walter, you may have missed the point. i know my brother, who just returned from 2 years serving his mission in Ethiopia didn't bring in a bit of financial support for the church, but many people converted to live a Christian life of service, honest hard work and live as an example of Jesus Christ. It may be a cult, but it is God's cult....call it what you like, i'm good with the teachings, the lifestyle, the origins, the destination, the results.

      November 9, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
    • just sayin

      @ Walter – just thought you should know... of the 52,000 missionaries around the world today... I don't know what the percentage is, but there are some are serving in thrid world countries are NOT out proselyting, but are teaching sanitation and providing healthcare and skills training to many. The Mormon church is organized and often responds to Natural disasters more quickly than the Red Cross or local governments can.

      November 9, 2010 at 10:11 pm |
  8. secali

    Forgive me, Icopied this from another post, but it is a solid summation of the LDS beliefs:

    Mormon missionaries teach that God is a man named Elohim, who lives on a star base in the Milky Way galaxy, who populated earth with the children from his MANY polygamous relationships. The most notable of which is his son, the Mormon Jesus, who came to the US in 500 AD to curse the Lamanites (which they believe to be modern day Native Americans) with dark skin for killing all but one of the Israelites. That one remaining Israelite is known as Moroni.

    Thirteen hundred years later the angel Moroni visited with and guided the church's founder, Joseph Smith (a convicted con-man), to an ancient Hebrew text, written on a gold tablet, buried under a tree in upstate New York. He then gave Smith a pair of magic glasses that allowed him to translate this text into what is now the doctrine and basis for LDS beliefs, called the Book of Mormon. Doesn't sound like any of the Christians I know

    November 9, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
    • H

      Hmmmm, doesn't sound like any of the things I have EVER been taught at church. Nor is it any of the things I have taught as a primary teacher in the LDS Church. Sorry secali, I don't know who has informed you OR who you are getting your info from, BUT this is NOT what we are taught, and as a LDS Member, it is NOT what I believe.

      If you would like to read TRUE information about the LDS church, please look to mormon.org. There you can have many of your questions answered.

      November 9, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
  9. Redd

    oh uninformed nation..become a little more educated in the world of etymology. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cult
    members of the LDS church are amazing, as are many people in this world. i love all of you.

    November 9, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
  10. Jim

    I did a two year mission to England. The Mormons prepared me with isolation and mind control techniqes. I was not allowed to speak or talk to anyone, not even my family. They drive the task into your head over and over. The only time they were nice was if I agreed with them. If you disagree they tell you they will send you and your family to hell. Asking a young impressionabe person to force a religion on an unsuspecting local population is not a religion. Now all they want is money.

    November 9, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  11. Sam

    I hope this girl fully recovers from her terrifying ordeal and leads a joy filled life the rest of her days – in the LDS church or not. I agree that whatever brings you peace is something worth pursuing. For me, the LDS Church played that role for my entire life until a few years ago. A lot of well intentioned LDS members posting here offering clarity and insight. These good people mean well, but simply can't conceive of the fact that they might be inside "the Matrix."

    They are highly offended at any suggestion that they are 1) not Christian or 2) a cult. I'm not too enamored with any organized religion at this point. But as to whether or not Mormonism is a cult, thoughtfully consider this message from one the Church's highest ranking leadersin 1980. It was re-born, quoted and endorsed by the Church as inspired guidance at the October 2010 semi-annual conference of the Church. TO my remaining friends and loved ones still affiliated with the LDS Church, read this and truly consider if you are comfortable with this kind of list. Certainly you would recognize it as mind control in the context of any other organization.

    Is Mormonism a cult? Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps all modern reliions are. But read this LDS message and decide for yourself. For you kind and polite LDS posters, can you at least read this and understand why the rest of the world throws those kinds of accusations your way?

    14 Fundamanetals in Following the Prophet
    (given by then LDS Apostle Ezra Taft Benson [later Prophet] to all LDS faihtful on February 26, 1980 – recently reiterated by Elder Claudio R. M. Costa in October 2010 LDS General Conference)

    First: The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything.

    Second: The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works (Bible, Book of Mormon, other LDS Scriptures).

    Third: The living prophet is more important to us than a dead prophet.

    Fourth: The prophet will never lead the Church astray.

    Fifth: The prophet is not required to have any particular earthly training or credentials to speak on any subject or act on any matter at any time.

    Sixth: The prophet does not have to say "Thus saith the Lord" to give us scripture.

    Seventh: The prophet tells us what we need to know, not always what we want to know.

    Eighth: The prophet is not limited by men's reasoning.

    Ninth: The prophet can receive revelation on any matter–temporal or spiritual.

    Tenth: The prophet may be involved in civic matters.

    Eleventh: The two groups who have the greatest difficulty in following the prophet are the proud who are learned and the proud who are rich.

    Twelfth: The prophet will not necessarily be popular with the world or the worldly.

    Thirteenth: The prophet and his counselors make up the First Presidency–the highest quorum in the Church.

    Fourteenth: The prophet and the presidency–the living prophet and the First Presidency–follow them and be blessed; reject them and suffer.

    November 9, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  12. Annie B

    Thank you, CNN, for accurate, straight-forward reporting on this story. As a member of the LDS Church, it is always refreshing to see those in the news media do their homework before publishing a story on my church, and then remain unbiased in their portrayal of the facts.

    As for Elizabeth Smart, I look up to her for her grace and poise through all of this. She is a great example of a young Latter-day Saint woman putting her faith in her Savior and letting Him lift her out of such a devastating situation.

    November 9, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  13. Reality

    Unfortunately, Elizabeth is also a victim of the Great Angel Con:

    To wit:

    Joe Smith had his Moroni.

    Jehovah Witnesses have their Jesus /Michael the archangel, the first angelic being created by God;

    Mohammed had his Gabriel (this "tin-kerbell" got around).

    Jesus and his family had Michael, Gabriel, and Satan, the latter being a modern day dem-on of the de-mented.

    The Abraham-Moses myths had their Angel of Death and other "no-namers" to do their dirty work or other assorted duties.

    Contemporary biblical and religious scholars have relegated these "pretty wingie thingies" to the myth pile. We should do the same to include deleting all references to them in our religious operating manuals. Doing this will eliminate the prophet/profit/prophecy status of these founders and put them where they belong as simple humans just like the rest of us.

    November 9, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  14. Charles

    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 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 4:53 pm |
    • Keith

      Who made you the word police, able to pronounce syntaxical determinations about which sect is Chrisitan and who is not. How about you let god make that decision and allow this girl to make her own decisions about what she does with her life.

      November 10, 2010 at 5:43 pm |
  15. Jack

    I thought I would add to this comment from another perspective that I do not see being mentioned or addressed. Twenty years ago two young Mormon missionaries knocked on my door. My life has not been the same since.

    Twenty years ago I was looking for answers in my life, why are we here, what’s life purpose. What happens after death if anything? After going to numerous churches and finding great people that more often than not, lived to some degree to that which they claimed to believe. But to me they all seemed to fall short. A life that I felt in the New Testament was not in what I was seeing. Buddhist, Hindu and Muslims were so foreign to me that I did not feel it could ever answer that which I was seeking within, but I had also looked into those teachings.

    That day twenty years ago, out of desperation of not feeling like I was making any progress in finding that which was driving me from within, I made a solemn promise to God. It was simple but very sincere. I promised if He would show me what it was that He would want of me, I would do it. As I contemplated how was I going to know if and when He would answer that promise, my door bell rang. I remember so clearly opening the door to those two young missionaries and saying to myself, yeah right, I’m going to become Mormon. That will be the day.

    I agreed to at least hear what they were teaching and never in my life have I felt that same life force that I have always felt pour out of the words of Christ in the New Testament. Needless to say, a short time later I was baptized. I refused at first to even consider myself an actual Mormon; I was just following what they taught because it had touched my soul in a way it had never been touched before.

    Twenty years into, I now can comfortably say that I am a Mormon. More accurately I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Or one may say I am a disciple of Christ or perhaps one might say I am a follower of Christ, or might one actually say I am a Christian. Well I don’t want to push things.

    I will simply add that as I rapidly reach the sixty year mark in life, I have never found anything that has given me such meaning in life, never have I known such joy. I have seen great hardships that have come upon me due to my membership and the refusal of others around me to accept it. At the same time, I have never been a part of something so great.

    I love those missionaries and their willingness to sacrifice so much so that some fool like me can see that life can be more than I ever would dream it could be.

    A Mormon Convert

    November 9, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
    • Thomas


      Thank you for this perspective. I was really touched to read your story. To those who have called missions "self serving" I would say that you simply do not understand the impact a missionary can have. My great grandfather's family was converted in Switzerland by missionaries in the early days of the church. He immigrated to Utah by himself at the age of 14. He worked for the man who paid his fare until he could earn money to bring his brothers and sisters over. He served two missions of three years each; one to Germany and one back to Switzerland, leaving his wife and children in the care of God. His descendants today number in the thousands, most of whom are active members of the church and many who have served missions of their own. I am thankful for those brave missionaries who left their families and taught my grandfather. Their ultimate influence is immeasurable, for how many people have been influenced for good by him and his posterity?

      By profession, I am a scientist and an engineer. My adherence to my faith is not due to the way I was raised; not to any sort of indoctrination or brainwashing, but because of the testimony I have of Jesus Christ, which was attained through prayer. My mission in Venezuela was a phenomenal experience, for which I will ever be grateful.

      As a missionary I did not feel isolated; quite the opposite. I soaked in the culture and learned from the people. I wasn't cut off from news, I merely got it through other people which made it all the more interesting as it was colored by their perceptions and emotional reactions. I recall one Muslim fellow who owned a furniture shop on a road we frequented; how furious he was when the Israelis bombed Lebanon. One day as my companion and I were walking on a different street, this man drove by. When he saw us, he jumped out of his car to inquire if we had heard of the space shuttle (Challenger) blowing up. My Spanish wasn't so good at the time and it took a while for me to figure out what he was talking about. That kind of stuff happened all the time. People would want our opinion, as Americans, on the happenings of the day. For most of my mission I was at least an hour away from any other missionaries (besides my companion).

      I'm glad to see Elizabeth serving a mission. It can be only good for her. In one sense it's a way of reclaiming her life. She is not letting the horrible things that happened to her keep her from doing what many young women in the church do; serve a mission. Who knows how big of an influence she can have, 100 years down the road. Her example is already proving to have a significant impact.

      Do an experiment. Read the Book of Mormon. Ask God if it is true. If you are sincere then, just like Jack or my grandfather or me, you will know that it is His word. God bless.

      November 13, 2010 at 2:27 am |
  16. Chase

    John –
    You would never in your life hear a Member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (a Mormon, to you) say that others who believe differently than they are not Christians, would you?

    I don't believe as you and I consider you a Christian.

    Hypocrisy maybe.

    Stay true to your religion.

    November 9, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  17. kmm

    I know people who have served missions and felt it was the best experience of their life. I know people who have served missions and no longer go to church. I know people who chose not to serve a mission and they serve faithfully in the LDS church. I know people who did not serve a mission and are not active in the LDS church. What I am trying to point out is that a mission is a personal choice, not one for others to decide. It can greatly benefit those that do choose to serve because thats what they need for spiritual growth. Other people may not be ready physically, emotionally, or spiritually for such commitment and will learn and grow more from other activities.

    November 9, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  18. Agnosticlike

    I'm glad Ms. Smart is free from her captor's. I regret that she is still a captive of her Mormon religion. While the former may be worse, the latter is most unfortunate as well.

    Religions are composed, and many times imposed, by man for man. Each makes its own claim of authority over man's sole. Each has the most ridiculous claims of miracles and magic, all needed as a foundation for belief. The Mormon's have the misfortune of having chosen one that, given its recent historical beginning, seems even more absurd.

    With that said, I believe in god as much as the most religious zealot, just minus all the manmade hoopla. We are all here; don't think man made himself, so I'm good with the belief in god. Just don't expect any missions, self flagellation or fatwa’s from me. I’ll have to leave those to the fanatics with the man made religions and settle for the simple belief in a higher being of non a descript origin.

    Damn, I guess I can’t start any wars, inflict any pain, torture and kill, brainwash, annoy people I don’t know or claim I talked to god. Man, this religion is no fun at all, I just get too believe.

    November 9, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  19. Jared

    I served as a missionary in Taiwan. The only "forced isolation" I experienced, was that it took me a while to learn to read the newspaper's Chinese characters. Yes we choose to forgo movies and some pop culture for a few years but it does not mean that I was not keeping up with what was going on in the world. It was the hardest and best two years of my life. I love the people I served and am grateful that I had the opportunity learn about them and their culture and discuss many of the deepest questions we all face in life.

    November 9, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  20. John

    Just a point of clsrification. Mormons may be religious but they are not Christians. No worries for those who don't care to be Christians, but for those that do don't get mislead by Mormons that they are Christian. There are numerous ttheological differences stemming from the basics like God was once a man like us and just attained to be who He is, and we can too by being good holy people. Sorry, no matter how good any of us appear to be we could never come close to the Holiness of the one true God. We won't mention His omnipotence, omnipresence, etc. which I don' think they believe in either. (Not trying to elicite responsing from the non-believing)

    November 9, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
    • chouse

      Okay, that's just ignorance. It's the Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day Saints. (Biblical Saints) We believe in God the Eternal Father and his Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost. We prefer to use the King James Version of the Bible. Old and New Testaments. The Book of Mormon is a separate book entirely. I'm so tired of hearing it called the Mormon Bible in the south where I live. This is a re-post from earlier. I don't know where you got your information but it wasn't from a reliable source. There are lots of anti-mormon "pamphlet writers". If you are going to make statements regarding a religion different from your own, then do your homework and speak the truth. Think about how you feel when people say untrue, uneducated things about _your_ religion. My parents made sure that my siblings and I visited other churches so we could make informed choices. I'm sorry for you if you were not given the free choice you deserved.

      November 9, 2010 at 5:34 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.