One Friday afternoon several weeks before April General
Conference, Ruth Lybbert Renlund received one of those unforgettable, life-will-never-be-the-same phone
calls. During that conversation Sister Renlund, a prominent Salt Lake City attorney and partner at the
law firm of Dewsnup, King & Olsen, learned that her husband, Elder Dale G. Renlund, had been called as
a General Authority.
"She was in central Utah taking depositions," Elder Renlund said. "I phoned her
and said, 'I've visited with President (Henry B.) Eyring. I've been called
to the First Quorum of the Seventy, and we're being assigned to the Africa Southeast Area.' "
"I was stunned," Sister Renlund recalled. "I didn't say, 'You're kidding,' because
I knew he wouldn't joke about anything like that. Although he is a great jokester, this is not something
he would tease about. I went back to the deposition room and said, 'No more questions.' The questions
I really wanted to ask had nothing to do with the deposition."
Elder and Sister Renlund immediately began making plans to wrap up two successful
professional careers before moving in July to Johannesburg, South Africa, where Elder Renlund served as
the second counselor in the Africa Southeast Area Presidency. Elder Renlund, 56, is a cardiologist
specializing in heart failure and heart transplantation. He is a professor of internal medicine at the
University of Utah School of Medicine and has served as the medical director of the Utah Transplantation
Affiliated Hospitals Cardiac Transplant Program since 1991.
"When dealing with people who are dying physically and are in need of a heart
transplant," Elder Renlund said, "you can do things for them that help them live longer and better here
in mortality. But everything related to the Church and inviting people to come to the Savior has, in
fact, a greater impact on them eternally. It's seeing that clearly that makes this next step so
Sister Renlund added: "The timing wasn't our own. It was a surprise, of course.
And people have said, 'You're leaving your careers at their peaks.' And that's probably true. But if
the Lord needs the peak of our careers and this is when we can be of service, then that's the time to go."
Having a sense of humor helps. "The loss of one lawyer and the loss of one doctor
cancel each other out," Elder Renlund quipped. "And so the force remains neutral."
Although Elder Renlund has served as an Area Seventy in the Utah Salt Lake City
Area for the past nine years, he still views his new calling as a huge responsibility. "One of the most
comforting things," Elder Renlund explained, "is to know that the primary purpose of a Seventy is to be
a witness of the Savior. If that's the job, I can do that because that's what I know to be true.
I feel comfortable in that; the only aspect I feel truly qualified in is being a witness of the Savior.
"We all have challenges over time, and we find that the Lord just helps us. When
we're deficient, He helps us overcome those deficiencies and weaknesses and enables us, with His help,
to accomplish what He's asked us to do. When we observe that pattern over time, it helps give us the
confidence to go forward."
Elder Renlund paused and then said, "After all, this calling isn't about us; it's
about the Lord and His work."
The Africa Southeast Area, with its low density LDS population, is vastly
different from Elder Renlund's native Utah. However, despite being born, educated, married and employed
for most of his career in Salt Lake City, Elder Renlund is familiar with Church administration in
regions where the Church is less developed, thanks to time spent in Sweden and Baltimore.
"A real meaningful experience for me was spending three years in southern Sweden
as a teenager," he said. "There it was a small branch, and so I don't think that was a developed area
of the Church. That, going back (to Sweden) on my mission and then living in Baltimore for six years
during my medical residency at Johns Hopkins University, those were meaningful experiences away from
the Wasatch Front.
"We learned an awful lot about keeping things simple and just staying focused on
basics during those times, so I actually think there's a lot the African saints can teach us . I think
we have a lot to learn from them."
Sister Ruth Lybbert Renlund and Elder Dale G. Renlund enjoyed successful
professional careers as an attorney and a cardiologist, respectively.
Elder and Sister Renlund inherited a rich legacy of faith. Both sets of Elder
Renlund's grandparents converted to the gospel in 1912 in different parts of Scandinavia. After being
widowed, his paternal grandmother submitted the names of several of her deceased children for temple
work, although she never had the opportunity to attend a temple during her lifetime. Elder Renlund's
maternal grandfather served in Sweden as a branch president for 35 years before he and his wife came
to the United States so they could finally receive their temple endowments and sealing. Elder Renlund's
parents, Mats ?e Renlund and Mariana Andersson Renlund, waited two years between engagement and
marriage because they wanted to be married in the temple. They emigrated from Sweden to Utah for that
very purpose. "It was because of my parents' desire to come to a temple that my brother, sisters and
I were born in Salt Lake City," Elder Renlund said.
Sister Renlund is the daughter of the late Elder Merlin R. Lybbert of the Second
Quorum of the Seventy from 1989-94, and Nola Cahoon Lybbert. "Dale and my father were very good friends,"
Sister Renlund said. "He learned a lot about Church administration and effective priesthood leadership
from my dad."
When asked about having only one child ina church where large families Are the
norm, Sister Renlund explained, " I had my daughter, Ashley, one week before Dale started his internship.
A year later when I was 25, when Ashley was just sixteen months old, I was diagnosed with ovarian
cancer. The disease is very rare in young women; it's commonly found in older childless women.
Thankfully it was caught early. I underwent a total hysterectomy, nine months of chemotherapy, and a
second surgery. My doctor told me that if I survived five years I would be considered cured. I didn't
expect to have a huge family, but I always thought we'd have more children, so we grieved when we found
out that we'd only have one child. Of course, adoption was an option, but because my health was
uncertain, we weren't sure if I would be around to raise the child I had. I prayed for guidance, and
at that point we knew our family was complete. I was impressed to go to law school and fulfill a
Elder and Sister Renlund have one daughter, Ashley, who recently returned to Salt
Lake City after attending Stanford and Harvard universities.
"(The call) was a surprise - it changes things and requires a lot of adjustments
for my parents," she said. "They are doing things like getting immunizations and figuring out how you
learn to drive on the left side of the road.
"But I just know so well that my parents simply will serve however they are asked
to and in whatever capacity, that's what they want to do more than anything in the world."