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. Jesus of the Bible Follower

    While it is tempting to admire this organization for their dedication to the cause of what they call Jesus Christ, it is important to realize these people do not worship the Jesus Christ of orthodox Christianity. Their concept of Jesus is very far removed from what the Holy Scriptures teach and their understanding of salvation is a blasphemous mired of works and obedience to a earthy organization. Do not be deceived by their lies. Search the truth at http://www.gotquestions.org/book-of-Mormon.html

    November 14, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  2. Muneef

    Check this Sermon related to the Day of God Nov16


    November 14, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  3. Ralph M.

    The number of comments and responses is by far greater than any other that I have seen in 15 years on the Internet.. I could not possibly read them all here. However, the civility of all I have seen is most impressive. Even those disagreeing seemed to do so in a civil manner. All of us believe what we believe and it may be difficult for another to understand. An important point is that most real religions value life and never endanger another. The same creator made us all, so does not direct one of us to harm another. Anyone who believes otherwise misunderstands what the Almighty wants. May God bless each of us.

    November 13, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
  4. christina

    i'm happy that Elizabeth Smart found a way to escape from all the media and take a break from everything. She looks a lot happier and more well adjusted than i would expect from anyone going thru something like this.

    November 13, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
  5. becca

    It never ceases to amaze me the rude and short-sighted things people say to or about each other under the safety of anonymity. This young girl overcame an event so traumatic it would cripple some people, but then become a confident woman of conviction. She has decided to rise above, forgive this man and get on proactively with her life, and yet some of you are treating her like a brainwashed idiot for doing so! What would you rather her do?!

    November 13, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  6. Muneef


    November 13, 2010 at 7:11 pm |
  7. Muneef

    cience is a lovely word and knowledge that has leaped us in to a different futures that are developing to reach the speed of sound that have even chal-lenged God Existence already and yet have not reached the beginning of heaven? Check that:
    At Quran As-Saaffat Sura 37:01 to 07 
    Meaning that all shining Stars and planets that could be seen from earth is on the nearest heaven to earth or the lowest heaven from the top down?and that shooting are there for those devilish who are trying to spy on heavens of the universe.
    Now am really surprised from those stating Quran was only applicable on old dark ages? When it has already told of Satellites and Radars on Earth,giant telescopes all said to be set for Space Ships and Green People just like the$$$

    Again surprised when I hear them saying could worship science and scientists that make God existence as possibility only and not fact with out any proof although we were given the examples were made to nations came before us all through history in the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Book. 
    Science cared more for chal-lenging God existence rather than research inventions of smallest and highest storage bat-teries that would develop us into storing high voltages in high capacities and using smallest of spaces in order we can go for utilizing the natural elements such as sun,air,winds & lightening to store reserves as Such batteries would resolve the total dependance on direct Electric current consumption,and it would resolve the transportations pollution issues from the use of fuel in to the use of batteries. Although feel sure they have the solution but the oil lords are above their heads not to release or maybe even develop? So how you can you believe those who are controlled by remote controls what not to say or what not to do??
    Read the Whole Sura if you dare want to know the truth that you will never regret reading and will pray for me to have lead you to ? Find it at:
    As-Saaffat Sura 37
    Translation by Dr.Mosin.      

    November 13, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
    • Muneef

      Tell you what to cut the journey short for you watch it here


      November 13, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
    • Muneef


      November 13, 2010 at 7:16 pm |
  8. Muneef

    Pretty shiny face she has.
    Any way I think this missionary work is good idea and hope all religions and faiths would do that in leading and helping others...
    I pray for them and God bless all those on faith.
    You can see how believers faces shine brightly and glowing while those unbelievers,unfaithful faces you will not see this shine or glow but it would look darkened or no shine or glow you will find for they are being far from God and purity or sinful.
    Quran Sura 48:29

    November 13, 2010 at 4:53 am |
  9. John Pack Lambert

    While missionaries do not subscribe to newspapers to say they are forbidden from following the news is over-the-top. I was on my mission during the 2000 election, and heard of its various developments.
    I also heard plenty of Banda music blaring at various times. The missionary spends most of the time from 10 or so in the morning to 9 or so at night either teaching or speaking to others. Well, that or knowing on doors having them not opened, or maybe walking. Whatever it is, it is not isolation. It puts people out of their confort zone by forcing them to interact with more people.
    The "Church Approved" music line is actually misleading. The allowed music varies from mission to mission. Music that is Christ-centered, and classical music are generally approved.
    Come to think of it, I think on occasion on my mission we would be teaching people who were also running the TV in the background.

    November 13, 2010 at 2:47 am |
  10. John Pack Lambert

    The cost of missions is equalized. All missionaries contribute a standard amount of money, and then it is reassigned to each mission based on how much is needed. Thus missionaries who go to low cost of living places balance out those in high cost of living places.

    The fact that said missionary was able to email home once a week is a lot more than I was able to do on my mission from 2000-2002. We had to write actual letters.

    I have a younger brother who did not serve a mission and not only is he a student at Brigham Young University, but he served for nearly a year as a ward clerk. Clearly not examples of being excluded from the inner circles of Mormonism for not having served a mission.

    I would also emphasize that in many countries outside the United States there are primarily missionaries from that country. About 60% of the missionaries serving in Mexico are from Mexico. On the other hand I have a friend who served a mission in Pennsylvania, but this was a foriegn mission for him since he was a native of Chile. On my own mission in Las Vegas I had companions from Canada, France and Mongolia, and served closely with missionaries from Brazil, Argentina, Guatamala, Samoa, Yap and Mexico. We had missionaries from at least another 9 countries in the mission as well.

    November 13, 2010 at 1:54 am |
  11. John Pack Lambert

    The Church asks that all young men who are 19 who are worthy and healthy enough to serve missions do so. Also ideally all young men of this age would be worthy enough. However the Church does not punish people for not serving missions and they can marry in the temple or do anything else in the Church. I feel a need to emphasize the helath aspect because to many have only mentioned worthiness. The health rules cover both those who lack the physical and the emotional capacities to effectively serve as missionaries. In some cases young men of age 19 who lack the emotional capacities to serve a full-time mission are assigned as local missionaries or short-time missionares.
    Sisters can serve missions but it is not expected of them. Men can go at 19 while sisters have to be 21. The church also is constantly asking for more senior couples to serve as missionaries. Senior couples sometimes serve in similar capacities to young missionaries, but they also serve in other positions that more fully utilize the skills they used in their trades. Senior couple missions are also of varrying time lengths. Young single men are only allowed to serve one mission and must do so before turning 26. Couples and single sisters have no limits to the number of missions they can serve and there is no upper age limit for a single sister serving. The majority of single sisters only go on one mission while at least a significant number of couples go on multiple missions. This is partly because after returning from their mission most single sisters hope to marry. Those who do consider another mission face the added issue that missionaries have to pay their own way. Retired couples often have ways to draw money while away, but single sisters in their 20s usually have less of a monetary reserve. Of the well over 200 Mormon women I have known who served missions while single, I can only think of one I have met who served multiple missions.

    November 13, 2010 at 1:34 am |
  12. Tyler G.

    Frogist: I appreciate your asking questions about LDS missions and from a quick look at the responses several other LDS commenters do as well. Everyone else has touched on the points of who goes who doesn't and whatnot – but I just thought I would give you my perspective. You stated that Missions are restrictive and that E. Smart doesn't get to enjoy the real Paris (or something of that sort). I think that LDS Missionaries have an experience that is leaps and bounds beyond what a "traditional" tourist does. You travel to Paris and you visit the sights – LDS Missionaries go to Paris – live among the people – immerse themselves in the local culture – learn the language at times to point of native fluency – build lifelong relationships with locals (both LDS and non-LDS). I would say this is the "broad minded" way to experience another country and simply visiting the Louvre sounds extremely boring in comparison. The LDS mission experience is wonderful, even for me as a missionary in northern Florida! A little like Kentucky? Good luck with your investigation into LDS Missions.

    November 12, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
  13. phillossosifer

    What's wrong with giving service under any guise. Are not soldiers doing same? Every American youth should give two years service, military, peace corp, or church, latter two served overseas.
    But, unfortunately selfishness of young and adults feel our countries benefits are a given and a reward for being born in US!

    November 12, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
  14. Dean Sands

    Here's a story, and it may not matter to too many of you, but I found it interesting.
    I served my mission in New Jersey and ran across a return missionary who'd served in Utah.
    Believe what you will. I trust the man who told me this because he had no reason to lie to me (and he'd already joked about some of his youthful foibles). I figured he was being dead honest.
    Several General Authorities lived in his mission area, and there were certain areas the missionaries weren't supposed to tract in (i.e. like fans trying to meet celebrities). He and his companion decided, well, why not, and so they did. He remembered clearly the house they went to. It was a house – and I ask the reader to pay careful attention – that looked like any other. An ordinary house from the outside. Nothing special. The two missionaries knocked on the door. A woman answered the door and invited them in. "Tommy," she called, "the missionaries are here!"
    "Hello, Elders!" boomed an all-too-familiar voice. And in walked a man that 99.9% of Latter-Day Saints can recognize on sight.

    An ordinary house from the outside. Nothing special.

    November 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  15. Jed Merrill

    God bless Elizabeth, and others who have suffered similar things. Her mission will be a defining event in her life, as mine was for me.

    Excellent article. The one thing I would point out is that Mormon missionaries also teach from the Bible, both being testaments of Jesus Christ.

    November 12, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  16. Maria Espinoza

    @Devin H

    Just keepin it real 🙂

    November 12, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  17. Cindy

    One of the most accurate articles I have ready about our church. The reporter did an unbiased article and really got the facts straight. I will be looking for more of your writing.

    November 12, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  18. John Hamilton

    I'm a little late to this thread, but I'd like to resond to Frogist way upt at the top of the thread.
    I am a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am a man who joined the church at age 25 while I was in college, and I am grateful that I did not discover this faith a year later else I probably would not have been able to serve a mission (one must be a member of the Church at least one year before going on a mission, and generally speaking you must go by age 26).
    I had thought before I ever came into contact with the LDS Church, that it would be quite an experience to backpack through South America if I ever got the chance. As it turned out, I got a much better opportunity to experience South America than that. I was called on a mission to Guayaquil (I couldn’t pronounce it when I got the call either), Ecuador.
    Believe me when I tell you that I spent most of two years in places that most tourists would never go, and much of that time in places where a typical tourist would be very stupid to go ... if they value their safety. But because the LDS missionaries were known and respected – not always agreed with, but respected – we were pretty safe in places where the average American would likely be at least mugged.
    Much more than that, my companions and I (some North American, others South American) were welcomed into the homes of the wonderful and friendly Ecuadorian people. Yes, I went there to share the message that had been shared with me a year earlier, with a hope that some of the people would find out for themselves if that message was true, and if they did with the hope that it would better their lives. Many did.
    And a couple of years ago, I got an email from a girl (woman now, she was 15 then) whose father I baptized after she fasted and prayed (without telling anybody) for two months for her him to do so. He had been an alcoholic much of his life, and hasn’t had a drink in twenty years. Her email told me that she was in Southern California, and my wife and I met her at church a few days later where we witnessed the baptism of her 8-year-old daughter. I think that only my wedding ranks ahead of the experiences of knowing this great family, of baptizing this great man and reuniting with this great young woman and her family twenty years later.
    A mission as tourism? Not intended for tourism. But much better tourism than you can buy at any price.

    November 12, 2010 at 6:19 am |
  19. Elder Leigh H. Sheppard

    My wife and I are currently serving as missionaries on a little Island in the South Pacific that is home to some of the sweetest people in the world. We closed our business, sold our home and everything in it so we could share this opportunity to serve our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ wherever we were needed in the world. Each of us served a mission when we were young and single, and looked forward to the day when we would be able to do it together as a senior couple. When I was 19, I served in Paris, France as is Sister Smart. I am sure she loves, and is loved by the people she serves, just I as I did when I was there. I was 19 then, and now I am 61. I have served faithfully in my church for over 40 years since that first mission. I have seen the wonderful changes in the lives of individuals, families and communities as they have embraced the teachings of Christ and felt the warmth of the love of the Savior in their lives. In 40 years I have never done anything more or less than to try to show the people I love that there is a loving God, and he knows us and wants us to find peace, love and harmony in our lives. In 40 years, I have never felt the need or the desire to ridicule, condemn or preach against any other religion or any other person's beliefs or religion or lack thereof. I haven't brainwashed anyone. I haven't been brainwashed by anyone.

    I, along with a large portion of the world, was ecstatic when Elizabeth Smart was discovered and her abductors arrested. I am proud to be associated with her even in the slightest way by sharing a common faith, because she and her family are surely wonderful examples of what faith, conviction, and selflessness can achieve. Her family opened their home to a beggar on the street, offering him food, shelter and a job by having him help with renovations on their home. This was the very person that turned on them and kidnapped their own daughter and held her captive for months. Her recovery from this ordeal and her willingness to reach out and serve others in a foreign land at her own expense is certainly an act of selfless love. The news article above is typical, and states the facts without analysis. The "mission rules" are in place to isolate her and all other missionaries as much as possible from the typical worldly concerns of home, work, school, dating, TV, world news, politics and finance, so we can dedicate ourselves for a two year period to the works of charity, love and service. There is no force or coercion for anyone. That comments following this article so quickly degenerate into an opportunity to cast a shadow on the faith that has sustained her is a sad commentary on the shallowness of a few.

    Ours is a simple message that the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth. That apostles and prophets have been called of God to guide and direct us and his church and to bless the lives of all who will listen. It is the same message that Christ taught while he was on earth, and was crucified for it! I admire you Sister Smart. You are indeed a woman of rare courage and faith.

    November 12, 2010 at 5:30 am |
  20. Rachel

    Too many people have misconceptions about the LDS missionaries. Some people are downright hostile towards them, and I can't understand why. When I was living in Virginia Beach, I met two LDS ladies who were on their mission. I invited them in to my apartment and had a very lovely conversation with them about the Bible and the world. They were very polite, non-aggressive in their approach to helping me understand the Gospel a little better. (I was raised Roman Catholic). These ladies never tried to coerce me int joining their church, they never told me I was "wrong" for being a "Papist" or said anything negative about anything. My spiritual path led me elsewhere, but I will always have respect for the LDS missionaries. They are truly selfless.

    November 11, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
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