What a remarkable story of forgiveness taught Elder Renlund about Christlike attributes

PROVO, Utah — In teaching new mission leaders about developing Christlike attributes, Elder Dale G. Renlund and his wife, Sister Ruth L. Renlund, cited from the scriptures and “Preach My Gospel.” But their most poignant teachings came from describing influences and examples from his Sweden Stockholm Mission service more than four decades ago and from the wives of his two former mission presidents.

In their joint presentation June 26 at the Mission Leadership Seminar at the Provo Missionary Training Center, Elder and Sister Renlund saluted Sisters Mavis Spencer and Mardene Folkersen — their husbands and his mission presidents in the early 1970s, President Herbert B. Spencer and President L. Ronald Folkersen, both having passed away since.

After his call to the Twelve Apostles in October 2015, Elder Renlund felt impressed to take his wife to visit Sister Spencer, then age 87, and Sister Folkersen, then 86, and tell them how much they had influenced him. Despite heartache, heartbreak, loss, betrayal and other challenges, they had been examples of faith, patience, compassion, love, selfless service and forgiveness, he said.

And they had shaped his life as well, long after the in-person interactions.

“Their Christlike examples and influence have been long-lasting, extending way beyond my mission,” Elder Renlund said. “There were times when I could have made different choices than I did. But the thought of disappointing either of these saintly women gave me pause. I knew, as every missionary who served with them knew, that they loved me. But, to receive their approbation, I needed to do my best, during and after the mission. To avoid disappointing them, I made better choices than I otherwise would have made. Without their influence, my life would have been different.”

Young Elder Dale G. Renlund on his mission in Sweden from 1972-1974.
Young Elder Dale G. Renlund on his mission in Sweden from 1972-1974. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Added Sister Renlund: “These women have been spiritually born of God. They received the Savior’s image in their countenances. They experienced the mighty change of heart, described in the scriptures. They had qualified for and received the spiritual gifts to become like the Savior. Their influence encouraged all their missionaries to seek for the same gifts, to become like the Savior. I am grateful for the effect they had on my husband.”

The Renlunds reviewed the what, why and how of developing Christlike attributes, sharing multiple scriptures as well as selections from Chapter 6 of “Preach My Gospel.”

Key is the understanding that the Savior chose His Father and loved others, with the pre-eminent event and example being His Atonement, Elder Renlund said. “He performed the atoning sacrifice not just because He submitted His will to the will of the Father, but also out of love for us, His pure love, an attribute called charity.”

It is worthwhile to follow “Preach My Gospel” instruction to look, study and work on Christlike attributes one by one, Elder Renlund said. “But please remember that these characteristics do not function separately or autonomously any more than a perfect carburetor is all that is needed to complete a motor,” he added. “Nevertheless, an auto mechanic will work on the carburetor and then move on to other parts of the motor before the engine is ready to work effectively and safely.”

The reasons to be Christlike is to fulfill a commandment, to qualify for salvation and exaltation, and to help others. Divine attributes are sought to help the Savior in His work, to not just merit blessings for oneself but to help bless others.

“These attributes are granted as we serve God and our fellowman,” Elder Renlund said. “The gospel purpose is to produce people of perfect character whose actions are only motivated by the pure love of Christ. It is never just about perfecting ourselves. It is always about helping God in His work.”

Young Elder Dale G. Renlund on his mission in Sweden from 1972-1974.
Young Elder Dale G. Renlund on his mission in Sweden from 1972-1974.

The Renlunds also underscored that one can qualify for divine attributes by repetitively applying the doctrine of Christ.

The two reminded the new mission leaders that they were responsible to teach, encourage and set the example of Christlike attributes to their missionaries. They concluded their presentation by sharing “the rest of the story” of how Sister Spencer exemplified Christlike attributes.

Years after the Spencers returned home from their mission assignment, he suffered health challenges that temporarily affected his personality. He divorced Sister Spencer and married another woman.

Heartbroken, she moved away to raise her five children and grandchildren and to serve four additional missions. End of story as far as the Renlunds knew — until their October 2015 visit. They learned that after 29 years of marriage, President Spencer’s second wife left him. “At age 86, he found himself alone, impoverished, and in failing health.

“In an incomprehensible act of forgiveness, compassion and love, and to the delight of their five adult children, Sister Spencer remarried President Spencer. She explained to us that their temple sealing was still intact and that he was temple worthy, so she saw no barrier to marrying him again. Despite it all, she had never lost her love for him.”

The Spencers moved into her home and enjoyed a time while his health was stable. A decline in his heath required placement in a nearby care center, which she paid for with money she had carefully saved and where she could visit daily.

The Renlunds asked if they could join her that October 2015 day in her visit to her husband. “My husband took the opportunity to give his beloved mission president one of his first apostolic blessings,” Sister Renlund said. “President Spencer passed away two days later.”

Elder Renlund said Sister Spencer’s demonstration of Christlike attributes inspires him — more than four decades after his mission.

“It’s hardest to be Christlike when you have been wronged, when you have every right to hold a grudge, when your own resources are small, or when your heart has been broken,” he said. “But being Christlike, Sister Spencer forgave her husband, found solace in her temple blessings and was charitable. She acquired Christlike attributes as she lived the gospel each day and extended love to all.

“Her example says more about developing Christlike attributes than any speech or sermon ever could,” he added. “I love her for that! I am blessed to be her former missionary.”