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. LDS Teen

    Wow, I can't believe how many hateful comments there are about my church. I respect all religions. Try to respect my religion. I'm sorry to say this, but it's not the most Christ-like thing to send hate comments about other faiths. It's not even about religion in this case. It's more about getting justice for a crime.

    November 11, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  2. Jackie

    This article is pretty well written. However, this sentence, "She’s been cut off from television, barred from seeing movies and prohibited from following the news" Isn't really accurate. The words "barred" "prohibited" and (in the next sentence) "only church approved" are slanted and give a false sense of what it is like. They aren't anti-TV or anti-news. If they come to your home and the TV is on they don't ask you to turn it off or act like it is a big deal at all. They've all grown up watching TV. Sure, they don't really watch it much as missionaries usually but there is not anyone policing them–or guilt tripping them if they do. These young people are really happy people that serve long hours each day. First off they really don't want to watch TV. They sincerely would much rather be helping at a local hospital or shelter. Truly. And their "leaders" are all volunteers too. Couples that have kids of their own and try to help the missionaries be comfortable and happy. None of them has a bone in their body that would go around "barring" or "prohibiting" the young people. They visit with them regularly, throw them Christmas parties, and try to help them. They send them birthday cards, make them home cooked dinners etc. They really are not the barring or policing type.

    November 11, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  3. In your own Reality

    Your research is so shallow, it can't be counted as research. Leaders aren't the only people who serve for free in the LDS church. ALL of our instructors, ALL of our Youth Program Leaders, ALL of our secretaries, administrative assistants, and clerks for congregations and stakes are people serving for free. I am one of them. There is no monetary award. No special club discounts, and no plan for advancement! Most never get called in leadership positions, but they put in the volunteer service all the same. We serve knowing it makes a difference to those we serve, and we serve because we have received personal, direct, undeniable communication from God that it is his will for us to serve each other on this earth.

    If God wants his church to have assets available to build meetinghouses, care for the poor, and clean up disaster areas and care for its victims, then maybe he is going to tell the Prophet and other leaders to make wise investments to accomplish that aim.

    As to benefits to the leaders of the church, you may want to try researching where each of the past few prophets have lived their last few decades. I am not aware of any who lived in mansions, had servants (other than nursing care), or lived "high on the hog". Most lived in a small apartment, or in the modest home they raised their family in. Did you know that LDS Apostles and Prophets are called to the position for life? They don't retire, period. They wear themselves out in service until they have nothing left and die. And they are grateful to serve God and his children.

    Criticism is cheap, but how much volunteer service did you do for others in the past week?

    November 11, 2010 at 11:24 am |
  4. Annie

    I have been fortunate to have had the assistance of two (actually more) young Mormon men who were on their mission. They came to my home and helped me do so many things. My life was a wreck and their presence was such a wonderful thing.

    i don't care what you think about religion. These young men came into my life, helped me out and will be friends for life.

    i have great respect for the Mormon religion. The young men who came into my life, helped me knowing that I had no plans to convert. It didn't stop them. They kept coming back and they kept helping me.Never once did ever feel that letting them help me was tied to my conversion. I told them it wasn't my plan and I still stay in touch with them.

    The young men and woman are the most wonderful young people you can meet. When you see them on the street, offer them a meal. They are shining stars in our lives and yet we pass them as if they are invisible.

    I'm not Mormon, and I'll most likely never be Mormon. But I will always respect them. And the young men who worked with me will always be my friends. Always.

    November 11, 2010 at 4:01 am |
  5. Lynn

    Thank you Jessica for this article which is quite accurate in many details.

    As for the Mormon bashers, please consider getting your information from a reliable source. Your actions are much like what we have experienced in the election – many people on both sides trashing their opposition w/o using facts. Sad world we live in when we are not objective.

    November 11, 2010 at 3:59 am |
  6. Lenny the Latter-Day-Saint

    I find it amusing how many misconceptions there are about the church I attend. It's not a business, not a cult, not anything scary or bad. If anyone has questions about it, find out for yourselves! Visit the official church website, at http://www.mormon.org You can see what others think about it, what we teach, and even IM with a representative who can answer your specific questions 😀 It doesn't hurt to look, I assure you. Lol, we don't bite 🙂 But I was originally posting to correct some incorrect info – missionaries can attend the Missionary Training Center for up to 12 weeks. But the length of stays depend upon what language the missionary will be speaking during their mission – anything from English to Mandarin Chinese. It just depends 🙂

    November 11, 2010 at 1:10 am |
  7. ryan w

    thank you for a well written article.

    November 10, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
  8. Steve

    It goes back to basic principles. I know that Jesus is the Christ. I have faith in His atonement. It's His Church. He can call it whatever He likes. It's also His priesthood. He can do with it as He wishes. He has chosen to work through prophets and Apostles. I find it humbling that He would take such a personal interest in us as to decide to speak to us through them. It is His choice to make but I'm grateful that this is what He chose. I know that His Father is God. I don't have a problem with that. If God chose to have a son, well that's His choice isn't it? Seriously now, who's going to stop Him from doing something good? People get angry with Him over His desire to guide us through commandments and covenants. I suppose that He could have chosen some other way to teach us if He had wanted to, but after all it is His choice to make. It's sad when people without love in their hearts choose to belittle others for rejoicing in what light they have. Most religions have some light in them that is easy to find. If that weren't true, then there wouldn't be good people in them. If God chose to work through a young prophet then that's God's choice isnt' it? I don't think that He needs permission from skeptics to do good. This thread is pretty long now. There have been several links to other sites. Truthseekers will find what Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ want them to find. I know that God answers prayers. So make prayer a part of your search. God bless you in your efforts. Steve

    November 10, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
  9. edge

    In general we Mormons are taught not to contend, but the anti-Mormon writers who have spoken her must at least be addressed. From what has been said here I suspect you would know know the truth if you saw if walking down your street. Actually your ignorance is exceeded only by your eagerness to demonstrate it.

    I wonder why Meridian magazine would even publish material on Miss Smith. Has she not been exploited enough. Have you no compassion? Leave her alone! edge

    November 10, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
  10. David Johnson

    Doesn't the bible say, that since she was a virgin and r_aped, she is to marry the man that r_aped her?

    Deuteronomy 22:28-29 "If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days."

    Hmmm.... Maybe that is her mission in life, to be Mrs. Brian David Mitchell. ?

    November 10, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  11. nyca411

    After all the utterly horrific, unimaginable things Elizabeth was forced to experience, would anyone blame her if she had turned out to be like, say, Lindsay Lohan? But amazingly, and against all odds, Ms. Smart has grown into a mature, graceful, dignified, modest, and charitable person, who is showing her appreciation to the Lord for helping her survive her ordeal by serving a mission in France, where she can help others find the same source of peace, and how they can also get through the trials of life by having faith in God. Even if you don't believe in God, or believe in the LDS (Mormon) doctrine, you cannot deny that Elizabeth's faith in these principles has helped her overcome her trials, and enabled her to find peace and joy again. The same cannot be said for Ms. Lohan.

    Matthew 7:20: Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

    November 10, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  12. Dave Chiu

    Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of Humanity.

    He is my Savior.

    Many doubt His Grace is sufficient to save the Mormons.

    I trust that we will be "saved by Grace after all we can do".

    The knowledgeable testimonies of faithful Mormons here has been a nice boost to the wonderful example of human nobility shown by Elizabeth Smart.

    The sure proof will certainly come to each of us now alive w/in the next two centuries. Bon Voyage 😉

    November 10, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  13. Buyer Beware

    If you are thinking of joining a mormon cult. Do your research and I don't mean going to the morman website. The history of the conman joseph smith, poligamy, oppression of women, baptising the dead, killing 120 unarmed men, women and children in mountain meadows Utah by Mormons dressed up as indians so people thought the indians did it, discrimination of native americans saying they are dark skinned because cursed by God, isolition and mind control of young people sent on missions to recruit other cult members, money money money hungry. But they will suckk you in by saying they are Christians. Buyer Beware.

    November 10, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  14. DC

    To those who think she's gone from one cult to another because of the isolation of mission life – hello, it's been 9 years since the kidnapping. During that time, she finished high school (a regular public school), and went to college. She'll be going back to college in a few months time when she's done with her mission. For 18 months, yes, she has chosen to ignore media and other distractions, but that's only a short time. Both before and afterwards, she was completely free to see or hear anything she wanted. And while she's doing that – most of the time she's around ONE other Mormon, her mission companion. Of which she'll have several, few of which will be Americans, most often on a foreign mission they pair the Americans with the natives. And the two of them are busy with service opportunities and contact with local people – many of whom will be doing their darnedest to convince the missionaries they are nuts – just like the people on this board. So the isolation isn't what you think it is, they are spending most of their time around non-Mormons. Not to mention while they themselves aren't watching the news or listening to music – it's around them in the lives of those with whom they are spending their time – so they still get exposed to it second hand. Mormons don't live in compounds or isolation the rest of their lives, they go to school and have jobs just like anybody else.

    As for indoctrination/mindlessness/whatever – do you think you are the first people to challenge our beliefs? Seriously? People have been arguing with Mormons since 1830. Every Mormon grows up getting told they aren't Christian, that faith is stupid, that they are going to hell, that they are little robots. (Yes, even in Utah.) It gets old – but it also forces us to either get our own testimony or we wind up leaving the Church. Nobody can survive the onslaught without finding out for themselves what they really believe, instead of relying on the testimony of others.

    As for Elizabeth, her faith and the love of her family is what got her through 9 months of hell. Do you not think that she didn't have to find out for herself, during those 9 months with a man who had totally warped Church teachings, whether or not she believed God loved her? Whether or not the Church was true? Apparently she did – to the point where she chose to go to BYU, and then on her mission. I don't think (even if she read this stuff) that anyone here could shake her beliefs.

    November 10, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  15. JPB

    Loved my mission in Indonesia. Enjoyed the culture. Love the people!
    I like TV, etc. but didn't miss it for 2 great years. Too busy!
    Wouldn't dream of forcing anyone, just wanted to share.
    I'm a grandpa now.
    I still value the gospel of Jesus Christ as it has blessed me through the ups and downs of life.
    He is my Savior. My faith in Him is sure.

    November 10, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  16. Craig

    I see that yet another news discussion has devolved into anti-Mormon hate speech.

    November 10, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  17. Joseph Smith is a conman

    His cult only lives if he can con you. Mormans try to hyjack Christianity. Christianity is neither business or politics. The Morman church is money first and politics second. They have never found where Jesus really fits. Christians know his place is first. Jesus is not Satin brother. The example Jesus set has nothing to do with money or politics. He came, showed, and died for us that we might be saved. Mormans believe they can become Gods, Jesus' brother. They believe you can pay money and the church can baptise the dead. Joseph Smith Morman conman only lives if he can con you.

    November 10, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  18. Cissy

    It's sad to see the haters working so hard to convince others/themselves that they're right.

    November 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  19. Jaime

    Wow, it seems as though we've gotten entirely off topic. This is a news story about Elizabeth Smart, not a bashing board – not a catalyst for anti-mormon sentiment or conspiracy theories.

    November 10, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  20. jeremiah49

    i was so happy when i heard elizabeth had been found after her kidnapping.it was an answer to many peoples prayers.i enjoyed reading of her mission to paris france. and that she is back leading a normal life.there are a lot of angry folks out there especially with anti mormon leanings.the article was spot on-the comments varied.the truth is out there to investigate-i read there are 6500+ anti mormon sites online-the devil is certainly trying his best with his co workers-i became a member through 2 missionaries knocking on my door and have no regrets-keep up the good work elizabeth.bless al those missionaries-whenever i meet them they have a wonderful spirit and enjoy their missions-my son served in greece and his best friends are his ex companions .i hope you all seek and find peace as i have

    November 10, 2010 at 11:39 am |
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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.