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. 77Observer

    Forget Old Sparky. Get a rope and save electricity.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:02 am |
  2. korwynias

    I find it funny mormons goin to christian doors and preaching lol christian is christian and to say there is a difference is idiotic

    November 9, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  3. Ian

    Go to mormon.org or lds.org
    They are both great sources of information about the LDS Church.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  4. Jeff

    I found it weird that people consider this an honor when they "apply" to get a call. I tend to think it would be a bigger honor if they were called without asking to be called. They are applying for a job. They get picked to do the job. I mean it sounds like many believe its a great honor to serve but why do they need to apply? They could do the same thing on their own. I mean...did Jesus Christ apply before he was allowed to go out and preach to the people? I guess I dont get it.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:00 am |
    • David

      Jeff, I think those of us who have gone consider it an honor because we get to represent our faith, something that is very important to us. It's not something that every young person chooses to do, and it can be physically and emotionally demanding, so it is not for everyone. I went to Argentina and considered it an honor to teach others about Jesus Christ. I was grateful that people would give of their time to two young kids so that we could share a message. It's an honor because in a world where so many of us focus on what our own personal situation is, it allows you to look outside yourself and see the world in a different perspective.

      November 9, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  5. JohnQuest

    Jeff, a scientist may only believes until they are proven wrong, that's not faith. Can the religious say the same?

    November 9, 2010 at 11:00 am |
    • Jeff

      Faith has nothing to do with proving something true or false. Faith is simply the belief or confidence in an idea, person, or thing. It doesn't concern itself with the outcome. A scientist can have faith in a particular outcome and still be proven wrong. That doesn't mean he didn't have faith.

      November 9, 2010 at 11:07 am |
  6. Melissa

    I am a Mormon and I have served a mission for our church. Serving a mission is a choice. It is not forced upon us and when we choose to serve this mission we go into it knowing what that lifestyle will be. It is not a surprise nor is it an utter loss to our freedom. Yes, it is difficult to give up movies, music, family and friends but we do it because we believe in Jesus Christ and we want to share our testimonies with others. The best things in life are not easy. We know that we are not on vacation, to sight see or "experience" where we serve the way someone else might. However, when our mission is over, we can always go back. I am sorry for those of you who still think our faith is a cult. I guess by definition: "a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure" then we are because we are devoted to Jesus Christ. If you want to learn more about us and our faith go to http://www.mormon.org. You might be surprised at what you find. Some of us are actually normal members of society. 🙂

    November 9, 2010 at 11:00 am |
    • Faith is a joke

      Spoken like a true nutcase! If you don't like our opinion than don't comment – how very christian of you!

      November 9, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • jesus

      You want to know the Mormons? Read "No Man Knows My History" (the life of Joseph Smith) by UCLA Professor Fawn Brodie.

      November 9, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  7. N 9-3

    It is sad. This is just a news story and because it has to do with religion the same ol' crowd has to come out and ruin the comments section. You did not have to read this article. Nothing was forced on you. As a believer, I try to have the same view when a secular view is out there and not forced on me.

    You made my day worse to make yourself feel good. Thanks.

    November 9, 2010 at 10:58 am |
    • DALLAS TX 1131


      November 9, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  8. Tee

    This is called the foolishsness of faith if you operate in it only then will you experience the FULLNESS of God.All believers understand

    November 9, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  9. Anon

    Her story is an amazing testament to her faith. For reasons we will never understand, the Lord puts us through trials and tribulations yet she maintained her faith in the midst of the most awful experience I can imagine. Although I am not Mormon, I greatly admire the faith and commitment demonstrated by their members. Few Christian churches can claim that all of their members have completed a mission trip as dedicated as these followers.

    November 9, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  10. CNNisWrong

    I find it disturbing that people claim Mormons are not Christians. I know you will probably have some quote somewhere that your preacher showed you in some anti mormon book or some other quote that from mormon church history that has been cut and spliced into something out of context. But that aside – I feel it disturbing that you claim Mormons are not Christian. Mormons do believe that it is ONLY the grace of Jesus Christ that will ultimately save us. That his sacrifice is what saves all mankind from sin. Yes, they belive that the resurrected Christ visited the ancient american continent. So? Do know otherwise? No where in my bible does it say that if you call on the name of Jesus to save you but also believe he went to ancient america- you're out of heaven. Jesus probably did a lot of things that are not recorded in the bible. Mormons do believe that Christ and the Father are seperate beings. That is not "keep you out of heaven" material either. Jesus prayed to his Father that his diciples would be one – even he and his father were one. Did he mean that his diciples would join into one body and become a power ranger diciple? Why did Stephen look into heaven and Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father? There are several arguments that can be made for both sides of this doctrine but it makes no difference. They believe in the Grace of Jesus to save them. Temple ceremonies or not, Book of Mormon or not, God loves us and wants us to return to him, so he sent Jesus to save us. Mormons teach that and live it. They are as Christian as any baptist in Texas I have ever seen.

    November 9, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  11. Mark Powers

    I don't know what's worse.

    Living with those kidnapping monsters for almost an entire year... or living in this obscene pagan world the family lives in now.


    I mean – my freakin god almighty... does anyone remember the first day she got home from her captors??? That poor girl was "back to normal"... playing her harp.

    I sat there looking at the TV and felt like strangling those parents.

    "Play the harp honey. Everything will be OK."

    "Take your spritual journey honey. Everything will be forgotten."

    Someday. Folks will look back on how we lived in the year 2010 and PITY the level of our collective ignorance. Just like we look back now and mock NEANDERTHALS.

    November 9, 2010 at 10:55 am |
    • Cami Gee

      Pagan? really? Peoples view of mormons is just as biased as their viev of Neandertals. The one specimine of Neandertal that now defines the whole people was an elderly, arthritic, hunchbacked, large nosed, sloped forehead man. Now we are stuck with the "Ugh Smash". The Mormon church or more properly (The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints) and yet not Christian? Some people need some serioius research without typing in "I hate Mormons" on Google and seeing what they get. When I wanted to better understand Islam I read the Koran. When I wanted to know more about the Catholic church I attended Mass. If people want to know about the Mormon church, go to t he source and look at their core beliefs.

      November 9, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  12. JohnQuest

    Musica1 I do consider them all cults (just more members)

    November 9, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  13. JohnQuest

    Semper Fi Rolando Santiago (from one old Leather Neck sea dog to another)

    November 9, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  14. Jeff

    An LDS mission is entirely voluntary, and entirely self-funded (no one is paid to serve a mission) and is indeeds something like the military–or maybe the peace corps. I would argue that Elisabeth Smart will come away with a much better understanding of France than one would as a tourist, or even an exchange student. She will be meeting and living with the French, and spend her time integrating herself into the culture. She will also have some time to do things like visit the Louvre, or the Eifel tower if she chooses. An LDS mission is structured and has strict rules because it is difficult work and requires discipline. For us it is sort of like a rite of passage. It is a time to turn outword, away from selfish needs and toward serving others. It is a time when young people can concentrate on being true Christians–a stark contrast to what is "normal" for most people that age. I appreciate your thoughtful questions. For the others, please don't condemn what you do not understand.

    November 9, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • Brainst0rms

      I would hope someone who spends 2 years immersed in a different culture would know more about that culture than a short term tourist. That is a function of time, not a particular religious calling.

      As for Ms Smart, I am glad to see that she would not be 'punished' (denied temple) for the actions of a deviant. I hope she has a quiet and good life. I hope that her family, friends, and her beliefs provide her comfort during the trying time of this and any of follow on trials. However the decision to send her to Europe for her mission was made, it was a great decision.

      One of my misgivings about the missions that young adults take for the Mormon church was that a member of a very famous Mormon family made the statement that while he was not going at 19 (or close to that age), he had to go later. The verb 'had' bothers me and, I suspect, others based on previous comments.

      Mormonism is a religion that many people believe in. If it provides them comfort and does them no harm, who am I (or you) to question or belittle their belief/faith? How does respecting someone's true beliefs do me harm? Just a thought or two.

      November 9, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • Joseph


      I think this is an issue lexical ambiguity. What you are taking to mean a lack of choice as to whether to go more likely refers to a lack of choice as to when to go.

      In other words, "I can't do it now, I will 'have' to do it later."

      November 10, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
  15. donna

    QUESTION TO MORMONS: Will she be able to get married in the Temple when the time comes? Or is she now blocked from doing that.

    November 9, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • Steven

      Yes, she'll be able to marry in the temple.

      November 9, 2010 at 11:05 am |
    • C. leigh

      Donna, why would you supposed she would be blocked from that? Just trying to understand- because of what she went through? If that's your question, Absolutely not. To get a temple reccomend you must meet with leaders of the church. I don't know Elizabeth Smart, but I can say that the church doesn't hold people accountable for things which they didn't have control over- like being so brutally abused. To serve a mission, you go through the process of being approved to attend the temple, so she's already been given a temple reccomend (pass to attend the temple)

      November 9, 2010 at 11:09 am |
    • edwardmatthew

      When the time comes she and whoever she chooses will be able to be married in the temple for time and all eternity. I can't think of any reason why they wouldn't be able to.

      November 9, 2010 at 11:10 am |
    • Lauren

      What would make her "blocked" from a temple marriage?

      November 9, 2010 at 11:13 am |
    • River

      Absolutely. No person is accountable for someone else decisions.

      November 9, 2010 at 11:49 am |
    • Erica

      I'm guessing that your question is based on the assumption that Mormons don't let someone that isn't a virgin get married in the temple.

      First of all, the church would never hang something over the head of an innocent victim. Getting a temple recommend has to do with personal decisions and worthiness, not things out of your control.

      However, for those of us that have made mistakes, there is repentance. During my late teens/early 20's I went through a stage of complete rebellion. Among the things I did wrong, I slept with several men than I was not married to. By the way, my LDS family and friends did not disown or mistreat me during these years, even though I am sure they disapproved of my lifestyle.

      Fast forward a few years, I realized that I didn't like where my life was going. I started praying and started to feel badly about the way I was living my life and that I was not respecting the gifts given to me by Heavenly Father. I wanted to change. I wanted to do what would make Heavenly Father happy. I made an appointment with my bishop where I confessed my sins. I have never had such a load removed. It was incredible! Over the ensuing months, I met with my bishop periodically and we discussed my progress. We talked about my testimony of the gospel, my feelings about the Savior Jesus Christ and his Atonement, and how my life was going. Eventually, I was able to hold a temple recommend. I had repented and been forgiven! It wasn't easy, but I know that it was a result of the Atonement.

      Shortly thereafter, I began dating a man I had known in high school. He had served a mission in South Africa. After a couple of years of being together, we got engaged - and yes, he knew that I wasn't a virgin, but he also knew that it didn't matter because I had been cleansed of my sins (see Isaiah 1:18). He was a virgin. We were married in the temple in August 2008 and are incredibly, incredibly happy. So, you see, even those of us who are "used material" have equal worth and potential in the eyes of God. His gospel is about repentance and happiness.

      I do want to clarify, however, that Elizabeth Smart was not in the same position that I was. She did not need to repent of a sin or talk to the bishop. She was an innocent victim.

      November 9, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  16. WVU9494

    I feel sorry for the girl and what this made up religion has done to her

    November 9, 2010 at 10:51 am |
    • JP

      all religions are made up numbnuts, things happened in the past that man couldn't explain so that's where "god" came from

      November 9, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • ann

      While I don't agree with Mormon Doctrine, I fail to see how the Mormon faith is doing damage such that you can be more worried about it than what happened to her. She seems to be coping quite well with a very horrific experience.

      November 9, 2010 at 11:42 am |
    • mario

      @wvu9494 I feel sorry for you for being so ignorant.

      November 9, 2010 at 11:47 am |
    • ann

      JP: I don't see the point in calling others names. You can disagree with someone without calling them a name. It kind of makes your argument sound less credible. If you don't agree just say that you don't believe in it and that you don't understand why other people do.

      November 9, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  17. Antipope

    wow, when religion takes up that much time, you miss out on life.

    November 9, 2010 at 10:50 am |
    • JP

      right, so getting to travel around in a foreign country learning about all their values and culture while trying to spread the word of your faith for free is equal to missing out on a life....yea you make tons of sense

      November 9, 2010 at 11:06 am |
    • Bliss2

      Antipope, I suppose if you believe that life is over when we die, 2 years is a long time to miss out on partying. But is that what we are here to do? Party? Trust me, if you want to feel good, and I mean feel a genuine satisfaction, go and do something nice for someone else. The feeling you get when you forget yourself and serve another can't be matched. I think we are all getting too selfish and self centered.

      November 9, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  18. ann

    Well I personally do not agree with the Mormon doctrine, however, she obviously is doing very well since having experienced something truly horrific. Who really has the right to demean her and her beliefs?

    November 9, 2010 at 10:50 am |
  19. Jinx

    I can't believe the vitriolic zeal that the haters spew against religion. I get it, it ain't your cuppa tea, but wow! Why do you waste so much emotional energy in dissing it?

    November 9, 2010 at 10:50 am |
    • Jinx

      ...and this is the "Belief" blog? I guess it is a simply a target for all the haters to aim.

      November 9, 2010 at 10:57 am |
    • Robert

      Looks who talks about EMOTIONS!!! The American Christian Taliban speaking about others' emotions.

      November 9, 2010 at 10:59 am |
    • GiGi

      Jinx – I believe the reason non-believers spend so much time harping on and insulting believers is really a form of jealousy. It's the same idea as bullies. Most bullies act the way they do because they are insecure about themselves, so they find someone they perceive as weaker, and devote time to tearing someone down to improve their feelings of self-power. I think most atheists lack the peace that most who believe feel and are envious that believers have faith and hope in something they cannot see, but certainly feel.

      I asked my pastor as a teenager, "What if there is no God and we go church every Sunday, pray a million prayers, and waste a good portion of our lives devoting ourselves to something that never existed?" He said "Well, if that's the case, then what did it hurt to believe in something that brought you comfort in your darkest times and gave you hope for your life? I thought that was a great explanation.

      I am not overly religious, but I certainly believe in God. I have felt His presence. I don't go knocking on people's doors or approaching strangers on the street to spread the gospel – I respect that every individual has their own ideas and beliefs. Personally, I can't imagine not believing, even thought I am religiously reserved. I am currently pregnant with my 3rd child, and I feel closer to God more when I am expecting than at any other time in my life. The miracle of our bodies, to me, is not something that happened because of a big bang. Everything has a creator; the cars we drive, the computers we use, the clothes we wear ... why is it so hard to believe that the two most intricate things – the Earth and our bodies – were not created?

      November 9, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • Jack

      Just like why religious people waste so much energy going on missions and trying to convert non-believers.

      November 9, 2010 at 11:24 am |
    • toxictown

      I agree. I am a non-believer and find religion silly but... if it helps people to focus and do good then fine. The vitriol is not helpful. I personally don't think you need a cosmic carrot-and-stick approach to be a good person and help your fellow creatures but I am not going to hate on those that do. Of course the problem arises (as in everything) when it goes beyond a method for good living and becomes "I AM RIGHT and you ARE WRONG".

      November 9, 2010 at 11:31 am |
    • Frogist

      Hi Gigi, Just to let you know, I am jealous of the certainty that believers seem to have. But my yearning for that ends when I reflect upon the fact of the things they believe in and how that belief can ruin the lives of others. The comfort it provided was fleeting and it was at the cost of the comfort of others. I am certainly more at peace than when I was a believer worrying about what a seemingly evil and jealous god cared about without ever being able to know what he wants. I feel much more relief, understanding and joy than I ever did before. And I am now so regretful of the way I used to think about non-believers. Maybe one day you will feel that too.

      @Jinx: BTW This is the Belief blog... not the Christian blog. And you will find that it incorporates the feelings of non-believers as well. For anyone to say we are not welcomed here, is to be very short-sighted indeed.

      November 9, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
    • Jinx

      @Froggist-just commenting on the utter intolerance and derision of religion in general on this blog. I never said anything about my religious beliefs or lack thereof, yet I was accused of being a part of the "Christian Taliban" and when I questioned that, my comment was deleted! Seems like a very hostile environment and I'll be sure not to come back.

      November 10, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
  20. Tauna

    This article makes a Mormon mission sound like a great experience...and it is for some. But there is a dark side too. Many missionaries become depressed. Missionaries are told that if people fail to join the church, it is because the missionary is not being obedient, working hard enough, etc. They are not given enough money to eat a healthy diet. Many a missionary has come home severely malnourished. They also are often not given proper medical care. The list goes on and on.

    November 9, 2010 at 10:49 am |
    • LLG

      Do you actually know what you are talking about? I never heard any of that. I ate quite well on my mission thank you very much

      November 9, 2010 at 11:19 am |
    • Shannon

      My nephew is serving a mormon mission and gets $120 a month for food, toiletries, household supplies, etc. If members are willing to feed the missionaries, it probably works out well, but in his mission, he is only allowed to eat at members' houses if they have an investigator present. He's not eating well.

      November 9, 2010 at 11:31 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24
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.