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. korwynias

    People are so intresting lol

    November 9, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  2. Jeffrey


    November 9, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  3. Dave

    I believe and accept Jesus Christ. I accept his sacrifice for me and I accept his teachings. I do my best to follow him, but come up short on a consistent basis....I believe he will make up the vast gap between me and what is required to return to live with God for eternity.
    I am a Mormon.

    November 9, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • Dave

      God did not sacrafice anything for anyone. That is a made up story that doesn't even make sense. We have to protect our children from this mind poison.

      November 9, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  4. Jim

    If Brigham Young was a true prophet, how come one of your later prophets overturned his declaration which stated that the black man could never hold the priesthood in the LDS Church until after the resurrection of all other races (Journal of Discourses, Dec. 12, 1854, 2:142-143)?

    November 9, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  5. EFC

    wow, Stephen Hawking Knows More Than You Do has clearly won this debate...

    the end

    November 9, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  6. Kim

    Just as there is a God (who goes by many names in many religions) who is good, there is a devil who is evil. God gave all people free will to make choices – a person either chooses the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do. A priest that molests someone did that of his own free will – God did not make him do it. We all make choices – do we go with God or do we go with the devil. We all know which is which.

    November 9, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
    • Keith

      I prefer to choose rational thought as opposed to your fairy-tale explanation of things.

      November 9, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  7. G EASY

    I have a new found curiosity and respect for LDS after watching 3 seasons of Big Love on HBO, we should all give Testament once before we go imo!

    November 9, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  8. David

    If her faith helps her get over the tough times she endured, I say more power to her. As long as religious-centric beliefs stay out of the daily lives of those of us who don't want any of them (including adding them into the political debate), no problem on my end.

    November 9, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  9. MediaVirus

    The people who think Elizabeth is brain washed obviously didn't see her take on Nancy Grace during an interview on CNN. She called Nancy Grace out, and rightly so, for continuing to focus on her past when she was just there to talk about something positive.

    We need more people like Elizabeth Smart and fewer like Nancy Grace, that's for damn sure.

    November 9, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
  10. Aiota Capli

    Faith is for believers. For the non-believers there are no words to say to make them believe. I hope Smart understands what she is doing and believing.

    November 9, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
  11. Jenickki

    This whole story just keeps getting more disturbing as it goes. First this young lady was abducted by a religious nut; now she is in a cult in which her family has put her. I honestly wonder if Miss. Smart is permitted to have a thought that she can honestly call her own. Please don't misunderstand, if religion is your thing; so be it. My problem comes into play with the fact that I don't think she has made a conscientious decision in years. I'm not bashing religion either, so please don't say I am.
    If she would like solitude, allow her to have it; but let it be on her terms.
    I wish her well. The poor girl is obviously very bright and quite talented. I, like others, hope the monsters who abused her are punished to the fullest extent of the law.
    I do, oddly, find it interesting that the people who took her were devout in their religion as well. What makes one better than another?

    November 9, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  12. J Davis

    It makes me sad that so much time and attention has been spent belittling and harassing (and consequently defending) a group of people. This wouldn't be happening if she were Catholic or Hindu or a living a specific culture's way of life as opposed to a religion's. The thousands of antagonistic messages of disgust and hate are what is truly ignorant. Your pathetic attempts at being the "intellectual atheist" simply give others who share your faith (and yes I mean faith; the faith in the fact that there is no God), myself included, a bad name. Instead of "exposing" the evils of those who believe in organized religion, why not work on developing your respect for humanity? If we were all walking down that road there would be significantly fewer Mitchells.

    November 9, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • justpassinthru

      I completely agree that mutual respect is the way to go! Sad that being polite and respectful is a rarity online these days. But even the rudest people here are not being any worse than they would be if this were a discussion about Catholics or Muslims. Click on any news story related to either of these religions and you'll get scores of nasty comments. So take heart anyone who is Mormon: some people just clearly feel the need to be nasty to anyone who is religious.

      November 12, 2010 at 11:29 am |
    • John Pack Lambert

      Sadly if she were a Catholic who had decided to join an order of nuns we would probably see more hate and invective. The New York Times paises demeaning portrayals of nuns as "original" when in fact they are just a repeat of the constantly circulating anti-Catholic garbage that has been with us since the 1840s.

      November 13, 2010 at 3:37 am |
  13. Respect

    "Mormons are strange." "Mormons are a cult." Well, have you considered this:

    If it were not for a Mormon you wouldn't have:
    TV – Philo Farnsworth
    Odometer – William Clayton
    Headphones – Nathaniel Baldwin
    Hearing Aid – Harvey Fletcher
    Stero Sound – Harvey Fletcher
    Modern Word processor – Word Perfect – Alan Ashton
    Artificial Heart – Robert K. Jarvik
    Open Heart Surgery – Homer R. Warner

    Sports fan? Did you cheer for Steve Young? Danny Ainge? Ty Detmer? Brandon Doman? Wally Joyner? Harmon Killebrew? Dale Murphy?

    Reader? Stephanie Meyers? Orson Scott Card? Richard Paul Evans? Shannon Hales?

    Actors/ Directors/ Entertainment? Don Bluth and Richard Ric? (Do you let your kids watch their cartoons?) Wilford Brimley? Jon Heder? Jerry Molen? (He produced some of the greatest films.) Rick Schroder?

    Look, every religion has "strange" people. Don't sound ignorant by quoting stats that just isolate Mormons without also comparing to Catholics, Baptist, etc. This country's prisons are filled with people of all relgions. This country's "greatest" things were also accomplished by people of all religions. Just because you lack the understanding or THINK you understand what a Mormon is based on 1 or 2 or even 10 things, still have the repect of someone else's faith and beliefs.

    November 9, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
    • G EASY

      AMEN. Those were the days...Harmon Killebrew and Frank Howard smashing line drives THRU the fence!!

      November 9, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
    • Keith

      So because a handful of people in the Mormon faith went on to actually accomplish something automatically gives a pass to the religion itself? So because Jon Travolta and Tom Cruise are big movie stars and have made a ton of money I should give Scientology a pass on its kooky nature and bizarro rituals? I don't think so.

      November 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  14. Dan

    @Jim – What about evolution, dinosaurs and outer space is mutually exclusive with a belief in God?

    November 9, 2010 at 12:18 pm |

    "SPIRITUAL JOURNEY"?...I hope some 80 year old "PROPHET" is not the one leading her on this spritual journey. Those mormon "prophets" like young girls.

    November 9, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  16. Aiota Capli

    Faith is for believers. For the non-believers, there is nothing or no word we can say to make them believe. I believe, and I follow, but not blindly. Here is hoping she understands what she believes in.

    November 9, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  17. MediaVirus

    by the way, this message board is broken. it's not placing replies in the proper location. it's treating every reply to someone else's message as a completely new message. so some of these comments are out of their original context. fyi.

    November 9, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  18. Aaron Moore Sacramento, CA

    Well, the good news is she's no longer captive to any brain-washing wierdos (sacrasm). Serioiusly...rescued from an abusive, mind-controlling freak, only to follow another (I'm lookin' at you, Joseph Smith!). Can we not see the similarities? Cut off from the outside world. No TV. No news. Only "church-approved" music. Can you say classic brain-washing technique? Sheesh! The best thing that could happen to this poor, naive girl is to live in a normal home with exposure to normal people with the chance to come to her own belief set or none at all. Jesus said that when we lead a child astray it would be better for us to tie a millstone around our necks and be thorwn into the bottom of the sea (again, looking at you, Joseph Smith!).

    November 9, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  19. Name*Hnmm


    November 9, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  20. Frey

    your clearly very simple minded and ignorant if you think mormonism is cult or brainwashing in any way try actually researching the religion before you start making stupid assumptions

    November 9, 2010 at 12:14 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.