Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has served as a General Authority for more than eight years — a tenure that’s allowed him to visit scores of nations and worship alongside Latter-day Saints speaking an array of languages.
But in an ever-growing and dynamic Church, he can still discover moments of spiritual wonder and divinely appointed “firsts.”
One such first occurred on June 4, when Elder Renlund created the first Q’eqchi’-speaking stake in Guatemala — the Senahu Guatemala Stake.
“The members of the new stake are sturdy, wonderful and resilient,” he told the Church News. “They have a remarkably proud heritage and they are strong members of the Church.”
Presiding at the creation of the Senahu Guatemala Stake was a historic highlight of Elder Renlund’s recent travels (June 1-12) across Central America. He and his wife, Sister Ruth L. Renlund, visited five nations — Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras — and met with thousands of members and missionaries.
The Renlunds were joined in their travels at various stops by the Central America Area Presidency — Elder Kevin R. Duncan, Elder Adrian Ochoa and Elder José L. Alonso — along with their wives.
A region ripe for a stake of Zion
Located in central Guatemala, Senahu is home to a growing community of Latter-day Saints. The members speak the Mayan language of Q’eqchi’, although many speak Spanish as well. Missionaries have taught the people in their native tongue for several decades, and a growing number of men and women from the area have served missions to various parts of the world.
Creating a stake is never commonplace. It involves extensive preparatory work by local and area leaders. When the appropriate criteria are met, the Area Presidency sends a proposal for the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to consider. Then, in the Salt Lake Temple, the Brethren carefully review the proposal and seek the Lord’s guidance. When approved, the proposed stake is organized.
The Senahu members are now blessed to be members of a stake in their own corner of the world.
“Now there is a stake in the highlands of Guatemala,” said Elder Renlund. “You realize the Lord is hastening His own work. He’s causing these miracles to happen. He’s blessing the people with the leaders, the faith and all they need to be established as a stake.”
Sister Renlund said the newly created stake offers the Senahu members a refuge from a troubled world. “It is a sign of their own maturity — and the members will help each other continue to spiritually mature,” she said.
The Senahu members are well known for their devotion to the temple. They regularly embark on 8-hour drives along rough, winding roads to visit the Guatemala City Guatemala Temple.
The temple is a defining element of the Church throughout Central America. Six temples are in operation across the area. Most have opened over the past 15 years. This chapter of temple building has given many Latter-day Saints unprecedented access to the blessings of salvation.
Central America’s temples “are accomplishing His [the Lord’s] purpose to be, as President Boyd K. Packer said, ‘Happy at home and sealed in the temple,’ ” said Elder Renlund.
A call for religious liberty
On June 9, the Renlunds delivered a shared presentation at a Brigham Young University-sponsored religious liberties conference in San José, Costa Rica.
Luis Guillermo Solis, president of Costa Rica, joined them on the program.
The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have championed and defended religious liberties at diverse gatherings around the world.
Religious liberties, Elder Renlund explained, are crucial to the message of the Savior.
“We have a charge to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world — and in the absence of religious freedom, we are thwarted from doing that.”
As a seasoned attorney and an observant Mormon, Sister Renlund has a special sensitivity for matters of religious freedom. “It is essential for each person to be able to exercise his or her own conscience and to be authentically who they are — which is a son or daughter of God.”
Missionaries and the Holy Ghost’s priceless companionship
The Renlunds also relished being among thousands of missionaries and Central American members. They gathered with elders and sisters from 12 missions, along with the missionaries studying at the MTC in Guatemala City.
“We shook the hands of about 1,900 missionaries — it was a mighty army of God,” said Sister Renlund, smiling.
Elder Renlund spoke of the apostolic kinship he feels for the full-time missionaries. The apostles and the missionaries are jointly called to take Christ’s gospel to the world. It is a shared ministry.
The Renlunds reminded the missionaries of the many lives their labors are affecting across multiple generations. The miracle that is the Church in Central America was brought about in large part by the missionaries acting as God’s instruments.
“The missionaries don’t see the total vision of the harvest, so I feel a need to thank them while they are serving,” said Elder Renlund.
Elder and Sister Ochoa joined the Renlunds for a June 10 youth devotional in Nicaragua. The gathering focused on utilizing the gift of the Holy Ghost. The youth were able to ask questions of the Renlunds and the Ochoas and share their own experiences with the Holy Ghost.
“You don’t need to be an ordained seer to see their future,” said Elder Renlund. “If the youth listen to the Holy Ghost and stay faithful you can see what will happen in their lives.
“They will remain true to their identities and they will have joy in this life and in the eternities.”