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 will serve 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 wonderful."
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."
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."
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."