If you’re at all familiar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently referred to as the Mormon church), you’ll know that the church has a bit of culture to it. Mormons have distinct cultural traditions and stereotypes. Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes are two women who both embrace their black heritage and tackle missionary work through their blog and podcast, “Sistas in Zion.” Sometimes the best way to understand Mormon culture is to laugh at it.
Embracing Their Own Cultural Heritage
While Tamu and Zandra didn’t meet and become friends until later in their lives, both women had to come to grips with the Caucasian population in Utah. When each of them moved to Utah, they expected to find instant connection with the other church members around them. What they didn’t expect was difficulty in connecting because of different cultural backgrounds.
The Church of Jesus Christ understood this difficulty that its black members were facing and set up the Genesis Group, an organization dedicated to serving the needs of black Mormon and other Mormon minorities. Both Tamu and Zandra found great strength and comfort in the Genesis Group. “It was a breath of fresh air,” Zandra expressed. “That’s where I met Tamu.”
Before becoming involved in the Genesis Group, Tamu found strength in researching black Mormon pioneers. She was able to connect not only with her racial heritage but also with her religious one. When Tamu moved to Utah and connected with the Genesis Group, she found that “Genesis provided that extended family I was looking for. Out of it I got sistas.”
Bonding and Blogging
You wouldn’t think at first that Zandra and Tamu would be close friends. For one, there’s a nine-year age difference between the two, and for a while, they were in completely different life stages. The two women didn’t become close friends until after Zandra married.
When Zandra and her husband were preparing to move to the Midwest Tamu suggested that they stay connected by writing a blog together. Zandra was initially wary of the idea. She didn’t want to write about anything personal and suggested that they focus on writing about the church. What began as a suggestion later launched into a successful blog and podcast, “Sistas in Zion,” parodying the popular Mormon hymn, “As Sisters in Zion.”
Tamu and Zandra, known on their blog as Sista Beehive and Sista Laurel respectively, relate funny personal experiences with Mormon culture and use the forum to promote understanding of the Mormon community. While Mormons certainly regard the church’s doctrine as sacred, they also realize that the culture is different. Sometimes the best way to deal with the idiosyncratic Mormon culture is to simply laugh at it a little.
Every Member Is a Mormon Missionary
One of the commandments Zandra and Tamu take seriously is missionary work. “Every member is a missionary,” Tamu explains. “And the gospel is for everybody.” While Sista Beehive and Sista Laurel don’t discuss much gospel doctrine, they do reach out to other minorities who may be having a hard time melding their cultural heritage with the Mormon one. Both women are testament to the reality that becoming a Mormon doesn’t mean you give up your cultural past.
They are eager and willing to direct interested followers to the full-time Mormon missionaries, who can answer doctrinal questions in greater detail and clarity. The Sistas’ mission is to reach out culturally and bring others unto Christ. They realize that Mormon culture is unique and sometimes hard to understand, so they lighten the mood by laughing at the unusual customs and embracing the gospel truth they love.
Charlotte graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor's degree in English, with an emphasis in editing. During her education she interned with the Neal A.Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, BYU Publications, and the New Era magazine. Charlotte currently lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and son. She's a stay-at-home-mom and has been able to keep up her writing through maintaining a personal blog (smallandtrivial.blogspot.com).