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. Robby

    Too many people on here are like my sister-in-law: short on brains and information and long on internet connection.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  2. Tam

    I wish her the best. What a horrible thing to go through and survive so well.

    But - the Mormon church scares me. Very close-minded and isolationist. And I doubt if they think for themselves. It's easy, it;s all done for you.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  3. MediaVirus

    Well, watch a few seasons of The Real World or some other teen-based reality show on MTV and see how most teens and young adults live their post-high school years. It's all hooking up, partying, drinking, drugs, etc. The only type of "service" these kids experience is service to themselves. And then those same people, when they get older, go on to run our civic organizations, sit on the boards of various foundations and corporations, hold political office, run our schools, etc etc. And then you wonder why our country is going down the drain? I'd much rather have teens focusing on service to others at that stage in their life. And if it requires a little brain washing, so what? Isn't that what MTV does every day? It brain washes teens into thinking these "reality" shows reflect true reality and thus these are the examples they should follow. Every teen would be greatly served by being disconnected from tv and news for a couple of years and serving others in a faraway location. I see nothing but positive things that can come from that.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  4. erin

    Elizabeth Smart's grace, dignity and decorum throughout this ordeal is nothing less than awe inspiring. We could all learn a lot from her.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  5. MikinAz

    Religeon is bunk. When those white shirt black tie boys on their bikes show up at my house and ring my bell (even tho our community posts the city ordinance of no loiter, no sell, no witness – so they are ignoring the law anyway) – Magic underwear or no magic undewear – I get out the garden hose...havent seen them in a while. I guess the magic underwear protects from evil but not a mixture of 2 parts Hydrogen and 1 part Oxygen...lol

    November 9, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  6. Jim

    I feel sorry for the experiences this girl had. That being said; living in Western Colorado right next to Utah, a chain link fence and a dog are the best investment I have made. For those of you who aren't Mormon and live in Mormon country you know what I mean.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  7. I hope God

    Taught her how to walk one mile from the woods to her house in under 6 months.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:40 am |
  8. open minded

    My x-sister-in-law and her family are mormons. I have had the oppertunity to meet many of the missionaries when they came to her house for dinner, etc. They were all such nice, well mannered, polite kids. They would talk about their faith in a informational way. If you were unintetested they were more then willing to talk about something else. I went to the church a few times with the family and everyone there was just happy to see me. They never once talked to me about joining thier church. They were the nicest, most decent people I have ever been around. I feel this mission was the best thing for Elizabeth. Maybe more faiths should take their approach to young people and the mission. The world would be a better place. I am an Atheist but I beleive in live and let live.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:40 am |
    • Devin H

      Just imagine how peaceful the world could be if they had the same opinion as you.

      November 11, 2010 at 11:57 pm |
  9. Dave

    What a brave young woman....I applaud her.
    As a former missionary, I can verify the research done by CNN in how missionaries receive their calls.
    Serving as a missionary (Brazil) for me was a great experience.....one that I will remember always as I saw people's lives change and improve. For those insensitive, and incorrect, comments here that Mormons are not Christians, I couldn't disagree more. We model our lives, as best we can, after the life of Jesus Christ. We follow his teachings in the Bible and accept him as our Savior. We do not "add" to the Bible....the Bible is the Bible. The Book of Mormon is a separate holy text dealing with God's people in the Americas. It's very straight forward.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:40 am |
  10. JLC

    This woman's inner strength never ceases to amaze me.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:40 am |
  11. polygamy?

    I bet all men usually go cuz they can't wait to qualify for all the benefits of multiple partners. Giggidy giggidy.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:40 am |
    • mario

      Another stupid know it all that knows nothing like "poligamy?"

      November 9, 2010 at 11:46 am |
    • Don

      The LDS church abandoned plural marriage in 1890. So what's your point?

      November 9, 2010 at 6:15 pm |
  12. mario

    She is doing the work of the lord in a peaceful meaning full way instead of the ragheads killing and screaming to others to join their terrorists ways like all the ragheads do. It's something she wants to do and she pays for the mission and supposrts her way through it all. You don't llike it...well that is your problem.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:40 am |
    • Jeepers

      Oh, Mario. I love how you speak of doing the peaceful work of the lord and then use the word "ragheads" twice. So peaceful. So Christian.

      November 9, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  13. Teresa


    November 9, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  14. Jeepers

    I have to say, that right of passage sounds like a blast. No tv, no movies, no reading materials or music not "approved" by the church, selling religion door to door...sounds just awesome. After being held prisoner and brutally r a p e d for nine months, she signed up to basically be a prisoner again for even longer. At least she's not being r a p e d, I guess.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  15. Laurie

    Mormonism is NOT a Biblical Christian denomination.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:38 am |
    • John

      how so? 'cause they believe that salvation is only in and through Jesus Chirst? or is it the feeding of the hungry, clothing the naked, and administering to the sick that makes them non-Christian. Sound like you are not Christian by denying someone else the opportunity to be

      November 9, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
    • chouse

      Okay, that's just ignorance. It's the Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day Saints. (Biblical Saints) We believe in God the Eternal Father and his Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Ghost. We prefer to use the King James Version of the Bible. Old and New Testaments. The Book of Mormon is a separate book entirely. I'm so tired of hearing it called the Mormon Bible in the south where I live.

      November 9, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
    • Terry


      Sounds like you have not been doing enough source research and relying too much on anti-mormon books or paid ministers. The LDS church is the closest thing to biblical christianity you will find. Please give equal time to http://www.mormon.org or better yet visit one of our Sunday services. I guarantee you will find that ormons love Jesus just as much as you do.

      November 10, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
  16. Kim

    What's really disturbing are the posts I'm reading here. Those who have faith in a higher power or deity vilify those who do not and vice versa. We are all human beings regardless of whether we choose to believe in a god, and it is a choice. No one is blind or crippled simply because they don't agree with you and it is ignorant to believe that your way is the ONLY way. The wonderful thing about human beings is that we can CHOOSE. We don't merely survive. We can learn, question and decide for ourselves what we WANT to believe. Some of us choose to believe in a God. Some of us choose not to. But that choice is based on what is best for us, not everyone else. My point? Respecting your fellow human beings doesn't necessarily mean you agree with everything they do. If you want people to respect you and your right to believe or not believe, you have to extend that courtesy as well. So SHOW SOME RESPECT regardless of which way you lean.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  17. pkbis

    Just think: Americans just voted in some of the most radical and extreme politicians at the national and state government levels who would make a woman bear the child of someone like this rapist. Laws in many states like OK, TX, MS, NC, SC, AZ, UT, to name a few, have put such restrictions on abortion clinics and doctors that poor, uneducated women and girls cannot get abortions and must bear the child of a rapist who could be a relative or even their father or brother. America is going backwards. Even Catholic countries like Spain, are more progressive.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  18. Gerry B

    As far as faith goes, one, hopefully, can not deny that a great individual known as Jesus Christ lived and had many teachings that were for the betterment of mankind. Christians simply follow Christ and his teachings, and, in faith, believe as he did.
    On life as an LDS missionary one can order the DVD called: "The Best Two Years." which will give you some idea about the experience, which BTW most missionaries look back upon with fond memories. Personally, I look back at my years in college and my years in the Navy with very fond memories ... some days are stressful, some hard, but overall great experiences with life-changing moments that improve who we are.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  19. Sean

    I think this world would be a lot better if all of you just fell of the face of the planet. Argueing over faith? That arguement can't be won. It's dumb. The smarter than thou atheist believe that the universe just exploded into existance and POOF here we are. The holier than thou religions believe that an omnipotent being was bored one day and POOF here we are. Both sickening. Why cant you all just accept the fact that people are different. If this world was filled with people just like you, you would be in hell.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  20. Brad

    ...."do no cast perils before swine." All the faith-scoffers may never experience the sweet joys of the silent whisperings of God's spirit. Their is substance to faith. However, only living a life of faith will one be able to receive the knowledge that their is a God.
    "For you receive no sign, only after the trial of your faith."– defiantly Elizabeth Smarts case I think.

    November 9, 2010 at 11:35 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.