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. beetle

    So she's still a slave. Young people don't truly "choose" to live that way. They are brainwashed into believing it's either that or spend eternity in a lake of fire.

    November 30, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  2. Holly

    I really don't get all this bickering back and forth. The Christians claim Mormons are a cult, and the Mormons (who seem to be in the majority here) are insisting just as strongly that they are not. What the heck are you arguing about? Who CARES if someone thinks your faith is wrong...who CARES if you believe their faith is wrong? I'm a Jew, and I think you're ALL wrong. If I thought you were RIGHT, I'd change my faith...obviously you think that I am wrong as well. That is the beauty of America!!!!! And guess what? There's nothing ILLEGAL about belonging to a cult even IF the Mormons are a cult! Personally, I think Mormonism is a bunch of bunk...so what? It's their right to be Mormon, and really...


    November 30, 2010 at 6:36 am |
  3. David B

    I did not read the comments here but I'll say what I believe and think. It's sad that what happened to Elizabeth did happen. Also the Mormon CHurch CULT that teaches it's followers and members not to question things and to obey it's leaders or else. Joseph Smith was in to all kinds of occult activity and was NOT the GREAT prophet and martyr that Mormons are taught to believe he was.I know some one who is a staunch Mormon is not going to like this but the Book of Mormon and the Bible are very different and their is no talk about hope for the lost and how to go to heaven in the Book of Mormom wheeas the Bible offers hope for all men and tells us how we can be saved from sin anmd how we can have peace w/G-D and go to heaven.ANd that is through the shed BLOOD of Jesus CHrist.The Mormons do NOT belive in salvation thru Jesus Chrit and him alone andheir missionairies have been brain washed and are only doing what they have been taught and could not offer help or hope to a drug addict or some one whose wife has left him,etc. because their gospel which is the Book of Mormon is not a gospel of truth,hope and Love but a novel that Joseph (FRAUD) Smith coppied from some one else.

    November 27, 2010 at 9:28 pm |
  4. JessSayin

    She goes from one prison to another,
    from one self-proclaimed savior to another,
    From Brian Mitchell to Joseph Smith.
    Deception upon deception,
    Lies upon lies.
    I pray she discovers her one and only true Savior,
    Jesus Christ. Then at last she'll be truly free!
    What a courageous woman.

    November 27, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  5. M. Anderson

    Many believe, including Mormons, that Jesus had a divine nature. But that is not clear enough. Here is the issue: Do they believe Jesus is one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity? No, they do not. And this alone disqualifies them as orthodox Christians.

    November 27, 2010 at 9:32 am |
  6. ster

    I'm mormon. I volunteered to be a missionary. I went when I was 19. I'm now 30. I was sent to Thailand. I can not think of a better way to have spent those two formative years of my life. I saw how different people on the other side of the world live. I ate different food, heard and spoke a different language. I experienced different weather, a different government, different holidays, a different schooling system, a different culture and religion. Through it all I learned first-hand how alike we really were. Once you break a language barrier and learn a culture you can really start to see how similar the human race is. It made me a better global citizen. It made me happier than I had ever been. It made me a better American. I hope that those I came in contact with felt that I helped them as much as I feel they helped me. It is an experience I would recommend to anyone.

    November 24, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
  7. JunkDog

    From one cult believing in having many wives to another.. I'm literally floored at the irony....

    November 24, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  8. Sean B

    I served a mission in Kentucky, got a kick out of all the comments here about it.

    There's a lot of discussion about this and that. I just want to say simply that reading the Book of Mormon brings me closer to Jesus Christ, enhances my love for him, gives me strength and hope to follow him, and makes me happier in the process! I read it about 15 years ago. Then I prayed and asked God the Father whether it is true. I felt a powerful feeling in my heart and mind that it is true. As I follow its teachings, I become a better person, father, neighbor, husband, employee, etc. When I set it aside, I feel a loss of power to chose the right, direction, and patience. My faith grows dimmer and the gulf between myself and God widens. But in 5 minutes of humble, prayerful reading, faith is renewed, hope restored, and the sure beacon on the rocky shore shines through the midst of the fog and storms of life!

    This is my person experience. I have seen similar blessings for others who sincerely invest humble, prayerful effort in studying the Book of Mormon. Just wanted to share with you.

    November 22, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
  9. Ryan

    Being Isolated from family, friends, and fun. This sounds like the worst! So glad I'm not doing this! Plus who in their right mind wants to wake up at 6:30am. That has to be a joke.

    November 22, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  10. william morley

    well I owe an apology of sorts, for the longest time perhaps since I didn't follow this closely I imagined the kid had ran off with someone so I'm sorry for you Elizabeth how great it is you can go out and about like that – wow, you sure you ain't got hidden muscles cause you're awfully strong

    when the kids from the local missionary office here where I live came around I would give them free drycleaning, they are good kids, makes one feel good about life I like the word of wisdom

    November 22, 2010 at 10:02 pm |
  11. runner920

    It would be interesting to see how the French respond to her efforts to teach them about Mormonism. I wrote a paper and did research about the issues surrounding Muslim integration into French society, and how hard it is because the French government is generally against the free practice of religion outside of a religious building. With the restrictions on veils and other "ostentatious" religious garb, I wonder if she runs into much resistance.

    That being said, I wish her all the best. France is a beautiful country, and this is an experience of a lifetime for her. After all she has been through, it's nice to read about a positive aspect of her life.

    November 22, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  12. Steve

    Missions are more about what they do for the church than what they do for the people they are there to supposedly help. The mafia does a lot of nice things for the neighborhoods where they are based but what is their motivation? Missions sound like a good brainwashing before the kids are sent out on their own. It is always harder for the average person to walk away from something after they have invested a considerable amount of effort. Humans are good at finding confirmation of what we believe in so after 2 year of their life revolving about little other than Jesus, it is easier for the missionaries to rationalize their beliefs from that point forward rather than look back and admit they were duped. If they can get some new recruits out of it at the same time all the better. Sounds kind of like a viral infection.

    November 22, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  13. Phil

    Its no coincidence that Mormons are the king of multi level marketing companies. Its the same way they run their church.

    November 22, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  14. Doug Schrecengost

    This poor young woman [Elizabeth Smart] is now being controlled by another cult [LDS]. Her trama during her first capivity, and social history are dogging her and her personal development once again. Too bad her wonderful parents could not direct her to the university, as opposed to a fringe cult-religion that brain washes her, doesn't allow her to watch the new, or otherwise observe the world. LDS is a strange and controlling cult. Best wishes to Elizabeth Smart. I hope she can escape from her latest captures. Brain washing is something she was vulnerable to after her 9-month ordeal.

    November 22, 2010 at 8:44 am |
  15. John

    Please do not call the LDS Church a "Christian" church. The term "Christian" means follower of Christ. The LDS Church does not follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as written in scripture.

    November 18, 2010 at 11:34 pm |
  16. nick

    Mormons are a bunch of cult wackos! Hey, what's the name of the planet that Jesus retired to? Yes, you Mormon wackos tell everyone that Jesus is still alive on some distanced planet. You all secretly believe that crazy stuff.

    November 18, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
  17. Mindi Lucas

    Once again, an article on something good is turned into a public forum for people who dislike the LDS Church to pass out their jargon. Don't you have anything better to do? Probably not.
    My hat is off to Elizabeth Smart for turning lemons into lemonade-she could have stayed home and sulked or been afraid the rest of her life. Instead, she chose to step up and make something great happen! And for those of you who criticize the Church, are you willing to step up yourselves and replace all the good that is done in the world with 'all that money' they bring in? I didn't think so.

    November 16, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
  18. And the winner is...

    Sounds like a form of Stockholm syndrome. She hasn't learned from her horrible ordeal that she, like all of us, is alone with 6 billion others in a lackluster quasi-metaphysical existence. Now she turns to yet another religious cult. Herein we find the downfalls of our second rate, low intelligence country.

    November 15, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  19. Chad

    Thanks Elizabeth Smart!!! You are remarkable! Keep testifying of the truth! Only the atonement of Jesus could heal a woman who suffered through the torment Elizabeth faced and make her whole again. Thankfully she has found the source of that balm in Gilead and none of you can take it away from her. She knows better than any of us what is forced religion and how true religion is freely chosen and broadens the heart, mind, and soul more than any other experience could. Oh that all of you could open yourselves up to know what she has found and find it for yourselves!

    Missions are about serving others because missionaries have already found something greater than themselves, which is what everyone should be looking for in order to find any purpose to this life and the next life.

    November 15, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  20. liz48

    I want to see the works of Jesus in all those who claim to have the true gospel. This is in line with hearing from the Father; raising the dead, healing the sick, casting out demons and making disciples. Jesus said He never did anything He did not see His Father do; and the Bible says Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

    Not just the Mormons, but all groups that claim to follow Christ; it will be a blessing if you will reexamine your practices and seek The Lord as to why there is a disassociate between your teachings and actions; and the teachings and actions of Jesus, the Lamb of God who is the only way to heaven.

    I am a convert to the teachings of Jesus and I know that it is the biggest deception to accept the theory that all religions are OK and we should (with political correctness) respect all religions. When I followed the devil in the name of my religion, he was all over my case. I found Jesus (or He found me) and I realized that satan is a defeated enemy who only survives if he can deceive human beings. You don't have to be sick, miserable, oppressed or defeated; seek Jesus not any religion.

    November 15, 2010 at 12:26 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.