Sistas in Zion are voices of humor and faith on stereotypes, misconceptions and all things Mormon

Published: Thursday, Aug. 15 2013 9:10 a.m. MDT

Tamu Smith, left, and Zandra Vranes are Sista Beehive and Sista Laurel, multimedia personalties and founders of a website called SistasinZion.com.

Trent Toone, Deseret News

Tamu Smith is a 40-year-old cosmetologist, wife and mother of six in Provo, Utah.

Zandra Vranes is a 31-year-old paralegal and wife living in Boise.

Both women are African-American members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Together, Smith and Vranes, aka Sista Beehive and Sista Laurel, are multimedia personalities and founders of a website called SistasinZion.com, complete with a blog and weekly podcast, where they follow the motto: “A relief from sobriety, where hilarity never faileth.”

“Are Mormons funny? Oh heavens yes!” they write on the website. “This is all about our point of view on all things Mormon. We’re just two Sistas with testimonies in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We love to laugh. We don’t always agree with one another, but we always ‘Love One Another.’ ”

Since they started in 2009, the Sistas in Zion have rarely shared much about themselves. Smith and Vranes recently granted an interview to Mormon Times in which they discussed their backgrounds and paths to the LDS Church, how they became friends and their motives for creating Sistas in Zion.

“We like to bridge gaps. We love being in places where regardless of your faith, there is content that feels good to everyone,” Vranes said. “We want a place where people can come be uplifted, inspired and laugh, no matter who you are or what walk of life you come from.”

Sista Laurel

Zandra Vranes’ parents were living in Georgia when they joined the LDS Church in the 1980s. First her father, then later her mother. Nine kids eventually followed.

Following their conversion, they moved to Utah, where Zandra was born.

“My parents used to joke with me, ‘You were the first black baby born at Utah Valley hospital,’ ” she said with a laugh.

But the family didn’t stay in Utah long. They moved to Trinidad and Tobago for several years and returned to Georgia when Zandra was 6. Wherever they went, the family was active in the LDS Church.

They moved back to Utah when Vranes was a teenager. She wasn’t thrilled about leaving her friends, but she looked forward to interacting more with Latter-day Saints her age. However, there was an element of culture shock, she said.

“Utah was this place with lots of Mormons. I came from a background where I was always the only Mormon in school, so I thought coming to Utah would be a huge party. Wow, that will be cool to not have to explain all the time what your standards and values are,” she said. “Then we got here and wow, we are the only pepper in Salt Lake City. It was unlike any place I have ever been in terms of diversity. That was super shocking and it took some time to adjust. My parents didn’t really prepare us for that.”

That adjustment was aided by attending the Genesis Group, an organization created by the LDS Church's First Presidency as a way to serve the unique needs of black Latter-day Saints and other Mormon minorities.

“It was a breath of fresh air,” Vranes said. “That’s where I met Tamu.”

Sista Beehive

Tamu Smith’s conversion to the church began when her aunt lied to the missionaries more than 20 years ago.

The woman met the two young men in shirts and ties at a Southern California grocery store. When asked if they could come to her house to share a message, she didn’t give her address, she gave them Smith’s grandparents’ address.

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