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. Anne

    Those who wish to believe Mormons are not Christian are free to do so. But these words from the Book of Mormon certainly disagree: " For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. . . . And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins." (2 Nephi 25:23,26)
    The L.D.S. Church publishes key beliefs of the religion with 13 Articles of Faith (http://scriptures.lds.org/en/a_of_f/1).
    Those who have never experienced an internal witness from the Holy Spirit that something is true can never understand faith, and will continue to dispute that others could possibly have experienced something they themselves have not.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:34 am |
    • whateverone

      So your argument is: The nutcase (who in a court of law was PROVEN to be a fraud) who wrote our book put in it that we are messengers of God? Wow. That is convenient.

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

      There you go quoting Joseph's little black book instead of the bible.

      November 9, 2010 at 11:43 am |
    • Don

      The Book of Mormon is a second witness that Jesus is the Christ. It clarifies doctrines that are disputed among numerous Christian sects. It witnesses that Jesus is the Savour of both the old and new worlds.

      "Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?
      Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.
      And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever."
      2 Nephi 28:7-9 – Book of Mormon

      November 9, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  2. Mr. T. Bag

    Aside from being in a beautiful city (Paris) - why must Smart attempt to convert people of other cultures?? Crusades only serve to p!ss off people who are simply living their lives as they see fit. Then some religious fanatic comes beating on your door at dinner time, or during your favorite show - to tell you that you're living in sin, or worshipping the wrong religion...
    That's simply obnoxious. That's why we have so many wars. That's perverse...

    And that's just what the crazy, religious-fanatic, pervert did to Smart when he abducted her as a child...

    And the cycles continue...

    November 9, 2010 at 11:34 am |
    • MediaVirus

      Freedom of speech allows anyone to talk to anyone for any purpose. That's why Nike gets to try to sell you shoes inside your house when you turn on the tv.

      You also have the freedom to not open your front door to Mormon missionaries and to keep your tv turned off or tuned to a non-commercial station. Take responsibility for your own life and stop blaming others for exercising their freedoms.

      November 9, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • Faith is a joke

      Yes Mormon idiot, you have a right to spread your word, just as I have a right to shoot any mormons who trespass on my property....would you like to visit?

      November 9, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • BrentW

      Reaching out and teaching/preaching has been a part of the Judeo-Christian tradition for centuries. Jesus Christ did it and some hated Him for it and some loved Him for it. The prophets before Jesus also went out among the people and were received the same way. I respect the churches who still do what Jesus did even though some will hate them for it.

      November 10, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  3. Tanya

    The Mormon Church was founded by the pedofile and swindler Joseph Smith Jr. Read about him in the Internet Wikipedia.

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

      The Prophet Joseph was a prophet of God. I will pray for you.

      November 9, 2010 at 11:37 am |
    • Se7en

      Because everything we read on the internet is in fact truth. especially editable wikipedia pages. WOW smarty pants

      November 12, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  4. korwynias

    Mormon, Baptist, Catholic, etc. How many more different kinds of christians are there?

    November 9, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  5. MediaVirus

    As an atheist, I have to say I actually think this is an amazing "rite of passage" for Mormon teens. It may sound excessive to some but to have to fend for one's self in a completely new environment (whether that be Paris or Kentucky matters little) without the crutch of mommy and daddy to fall back on, is truly the best way for these teens to become true adults. I'm no fan of religion but the Mormons I've met seem like very happy, well-adjusted people. Perhaps their missionary service helps them become this way in the same way that world travel often seems to create more aware and open-minded people in general.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:26 am |
    • John Pack Lambert

      Calling missionaries "teens" is a bit much. The youngest are 19-year-olds. Sister missionaries like Sister Smart are at least 21.

      November 13, 2010 at 3:17 am |
  6. Rob

    Ed Smart should be on trial as an accomplice! It was he and his wife who scoured the streets for cheap laborers and brought them home – and Ed has pimped out his daughter ever since. They should have taped her deposition, but I'm sure Ed wanted to get some added mileage and talk up the church. What a great example of Utahns and Mormons. Ed will go into politics next, mark my words!

    November 9, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  7. Kenagle

    I've never understood the whole "god looked out for me" or "god helped me survive this natural disaster" or whatever the situation may be. If god is so powerful and thoughful, why did god let it happen in the 1st place? Evererytime there is major disaster, there is always somene who says "god let me live." If that's so, then what about all the people that diied? Had god made his "saving quota" for the day and just didn't care about the other people. Oh yeah, I forget, god works in mysterious ways.

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

      The thing that you have to understand is that we don't believe that our lives began at birth or will end at death. We believe that we chose to come to earth in order to grow and learn. Once of the ways that we grow is through trials, which mature us. Think of a difficult experience you had in your life and how you grew as a person. We believe that God has a plan for each of us, which will lead us to as much happiness as we choose. For some people, their plan will be fulfilled by passing on to the next life, while some people still have a work to perform on Earth. God allows us to go through trials for two reasons: 1. he will not take away the agency, or freedom to choose one's actions, of another person. 2. They help us to grow. To say that God is unkind because he allows natural disasters to occur is to imply that our lives end at death, that God doesn't love us, and that he doesn't know what to do. I can testify that I KNOW that God has a plan for each of us, that he loves us and desires our happiness, and that our spirits do not end at death. If you want to know more about what I believe, see http://mormon.org/plan-of-happiness/

      November 10, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
  8. JohnQuest

    I don't get it at all, believes say that God Loves them, that God cares for them and that God is in control of all things. The problems is if God was with them through an ordeal and God can do all things why not prevent the ordeal in the first place? The bottom line is if you or I could prevent something like this and we did not we are as guilty as the monster that did it! That's not only the law its common sense, show me someone that choose to allow a 2 year old to die in a fire and I will show you someone that we all will agree shouldn't be living in our society, yet God who is great enough to stop the fire or remove the child does absolutely nothing. This could only mean one of two things 1) there is a God and it does not love or care about any of us, not one bit or 2) there is no God.

    If there is a third or forth option please let me know.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:22 am |
    • River

      Here's another option- As a loving God, He knew it was important we be allowed to make our own choices. A loving parent knows it's important to not force or control their children. But He also knew many people would use that freedom to hurt others. For that reason He sent a Savior, so through faith in Him we could be healed from the hurt caused by others. Elizabeth Smart appears to be an example of this.

      November 9, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
    • Don

      Read 2 Nephi chapter 2 in the Book of Mormon. Subject – opposition provides freedom of choice and appreciation for the good. We cannot appreciate health without sickness. We cannot know light without darkness. We cannot choose good unless there is evil. We cannot grow without challenges. It's not what happens to us but how we handle it that is the real measure of character.

      November 9, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
  9. Pig Spotter

    Mormons worship the angel Moroni, so why aren't Mormons more fittingly called Morons?
    They must be Morons to believe in the stories of a deranged failed Science fiction writer who married more than 30 women, including an unwilling fourteen year old.

    There is so much in common between Mormonism and Islam, but the leaders of the sheeple don't want them to know about that.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:22 am |
    • River

      Members of the Church of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints worship the Savior. In regards to the science writer comment, I think you may be confusing with another group? Mormon.org is a good source of factual information for all those who are interested.

      November 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  10. Mark

    No TV, no news, nothing but religious indoctrination equals brainwashing. Glad I am an Atheist.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:22 am |
    • Rudegar

      Ya you are safe from brainwashing...oh wait not if you have ever.

      set foot in a grocery store
      watched tv
      listened to the radio
      read a magazine article or saw an ad
      read article or saw an ad in a newspaper
      saw a billboard
      saw a bumper sticker

      and you think you aren't being brainwashed?

      November 9, 2010 at 11:33 am |
    • kylo277

      Yes, that right....when searching for knowledge and truth the first thing one must do is turn on the TV and listen to Bill Maher. yeah, that's bullet proof sound logic.

      November 9, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  11. Bernard

    This whole conversation is pointless... Each person has his or her own experiences that largly shape how they see the world, including the possibility of a higher power... It's disrespectful for anybody on either side of the arguement to speak as if they have all the answers! None of you know... I don't know! Can a believer really say that a higher power exists with 100 % certainty... NO that's why it's faith! Personal experiences have compelled them to believe! With new disoveries being made every day... The possibility of a higher powers existance can't be discounted (need proof to disprove faith as well). On the other hand... some people NEED the facts and as far as they are concerned, nothing is valid without them. I think most people believe that about most things...Their view cannot be discounted by the non-existance of facts... Throwing this FAITH vs. FACTS back and forth will always end up in a draw!

    November 9, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  12. Alex

    I have seen a great bumper sticker:
    "Do not get born again. Just grow up"
    People, are you serious? Wake up! Look at idiotic concepts of your neighbor's religion.
    And then think of your own religion. It is not better. And if you are in doubt – ask the neighbor.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  13. korwynias

    There are almost no christians in asia, like only 10 – 18%

    November 9, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  14. Decepticon

    You cannot repair faith - faith repairs you.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  15. Sickened

    lol I like how she went from being controlled by one group of people into the control of another group of people. Pretty sick stuff right there.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:18 am |
  16. tom

    it's okay if you don't believe in god. that's your choice. i'm just happy as a clam that i have found the lord. the rest of you can carry-on, but for me it's jesus. (i expect persecution as a price), but it's worth it. no one speaks for me, this is of my own volution. you can come up with what you want, but for those who have seen god, they have no reason to go anywhere else. i thank the lord every day for the gift of life. if you don't want tot hank him, that's your choice. just remember – it was your choice.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:18 am |
    • Zane

      The only people who have claimed to see god are the schizophrenics!

      November 9, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
    • John Pack Lambert

      Zane you are engaging in circular reasoning. At that you would be hard pressed to put the label of schizophrenic on many people who have said they saw God if you do not use a one-criteria diagnosis.

      November 13, 2010 at 3:08 am |
  17. Jeff

    I served a two year mission in Brazil (Amazon Jungle). We built houses, did yard work, helped people move, cleaned houses, cut trees, etc. In general we made the lives of the people we taught so much better. We gave people hope when they were ready to give up. It was a voluntary, service mission.

    As a 19 year old I could have been out drinking and killing brain cells like most other 19 year olds are doing, but chose not to. I learned dicipline. I learned to love other people.

    Now I am 34 years old, have an amazing family, a master's degree, and a six-figure salary. I don't consider myself better than anyone else. I DO however, attribute all that I have to my Mormon faith, and the experiences I had during my 2-year mission in Brazil.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:17 am |
    • Zane

      Of course you consider yourself better than others, or you wouldn't have had to mention your accomplishments. Mormons believe that good things come to the righteous and worthy. The more righteous you are the better your life is. For some reason with mormons that always includes lot's of money, boats, cars, ATV's, toys, a bigger house then your neighbor. Which might explain why Utah has the highest rate of white collar crime, ponzi schemes, real estate schemes, then almost anywhere else in the nation. The funniest part is it's usually committed by Mormons in good standing against members of their own congregation!

      November 9, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  18. morris2196

    It is pretty clear that the universe has a design – the planets move systematically in relation to each other, creatures on earth have a design that allows them to function, etc. Even things we take for granted are extremely complex. For example, the operation of the human eye requires that the internal geometry and trigonometry aspects of the eye have, to use an engineering phrase, "close tolerances".

    The existence of a design logically implies the existence of a designer. Albert Einstein once said "Certainly there is a God. Any man who does not believe in a cosmic force is a fool."

    The question is who is that God (designer). That is where faith comes in.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:15 am |
    • shamgar50

      Not really. It's pretty clear there is no designer. To think otherwise, is just a display of ignorance.

      November 9, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
    • Zane

      Sorry, the human eye is not a master work of engineering otherwise the rods and cones would face toward the light instead of away from the light. Looks like god made a design error!

      November 9, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  19. Red by Choice

    You have to love the liberals posting here. You are free to choose your path through life.....so long as it meets their intellectual standards. A woman is free to exercise her reproductive rights...so long as she chooses to have the number of children that liberals think she should. You are free to choose a religion....so long as you think that mankind is nothing more than bugs that occurred by chemical happenstance and what we see in front of us now is all there is to existence. What a small, hopeless, self-centered existence. What hypocrisy.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  20. What a Cult

    The biggest cult in the world is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints... who decided it would be okay for teenagers to go to a strange city, knocking on doors of muderers and child molesters to talk about something that some psycho made up. My cousin is on his mission trip right now and i'm going to go visit him... whose gonna stop me or him from seeing family?

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

      No one....enjoy your trip!!

      Mormons are free to choose their path.

      November 9, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
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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.