Throughout her life, Sister Tamara (Tammy) W. Runia has held a variety of callings in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — stake scripture class instructor, stake Relief Society presidency counselor, Australia Sydney Mission leader — but most of her service has been spent with the young women.
“I’ve loved every calling that I’ve served in … but I have to say I feel at home with the Young Women,” she said. “I hope to give every single one of them a big hug.”
Sister Runia, who was sustained April 1 as first counselor in the Young Women general presidency and will begin her service on Aug. 1, said she’s been to Young Women camp more than 20 times. One year, she was even asked to attend as the “camp cheerleader.”
She wants all the young women to know how much their Heavenly Father loves them. That love is “wide as the sky, deep as the ocean,” she said, noting that He “wants them all back home.”
Feeling that connection will be life-changing, she added, “because it has been for me.”
Sister Runia was born March 2, 1961, in Concord, California, to Vincent Alma Wood and Gail Hilton Wood. She grew up in Walnut Creek, California, “right in the middle” of seven children. She mentioned that her “four sisters and two brothers are the best siblings and friends you could ask for.”
Both of her parents were people of great faith and service, Sister Runia said, and modeled Christlikeness both inside and outside the home. She learned from them how to love.
Sister Runia was a freshman at Brigham Young University studying broadcast journalism when she met her husband, R. Scott Runia, a senior at BYU. He was from a Dutch family and was also a BYU basketball player. For their first date, he invited her to one of his games.
Brother Runia said he was attracted to Sister Runia’s strength, spirituality and friendly personality. “[I] fell madly in love fast. … I always said I’d marry someone that would take me straight to heaven. And I did.”
During their courtship, Brother Runia left the U.S. to play professional basketball in Holland. Halfway through the season, Sister Runia flew to the Netherlands, and they were engaged in a windmill-turned-restaurant. After their marriage on May 23, 1981, in the Oakland California Temple, they spent the first year of their married life in Holland.
“It was a delight to … be immersed in that culture and get to know the people better,” Sister Runia said of that time.
Brother and Sister Runia moved back to Utah and remained in Provo, where they raised their seven children: Ryan, Dane, Carly, Tanner, Nolan, Pater and Berkeley. They also have 16 grandchildren.
“My husband, our children and their families mean everything. And we love being together,” Sister Runia said. The Runias’ family time “can be anything,” from cooking and cleaning up a big meal, to playing tetherball in the backyard, to water-skiing at Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border.
Three braided strands
Sister Runia’s life hasn’t been without challenging chapters of great learning. Recently, in 2018, Brother Runia was serving as an Area Seventy when he and Sister Runia were called as mission leaders in the Australia Sydney Mission.
The Australia Sydney North Mission and the Australia Sydney South Mission had just combined, leaving the Runias with over 300 missionaries. Only three weeks after their arrival, one of the missionaries — Elder Gavin Zimmerman, 19, from West Haven, Utah — died in an accidental fall.
A few months later, Sister Runia’s appendix ruptured, with additional complications following surgery. Six other missionaries also suffered from ruptured appendixes that year.
In December 2018, Brother and Sister Runia’s two high school-age children returned to the U.S. to complete their schooling, a difficult decision for the entire family.
Then in March 2019, the Runias’ grandson was born prematurely, and Sister Runia’s mother passed away a few weeks later. Later, there were devastating bushfires in Australia and COVID-19 sent 250 missionaries home.
“It was such a tough and tender time, and I found myself on my knees more than I think I ever had before,” Sister Runia said.
But those difficult experiences aren’t what Sister Runia took from her mission. Rather, she cherishes the relationships built with her missionaries and the people of Australia, many of whom she and Brother Runia still talk with often.
Sister Runia said the love she felt for her missionaries was greater than herself, like God’s love was coming through her. It was immediate — the second a missionary stepped off the plane, she felt a constant flow of love for them, she said.
“I’ve struggled at times to feel God’s love, so for me, the takeaway was, ‘If God feels this way about these missionaries, then He must feel that same way about me,’” Sister Runia said. “And that was such a beautiful gift.”
She added that the gospel isn’t an umbrella that keeps bad things from raining on a person. Instead, “it’s that foundation that we’re standing on while it’s raining, while we’re getting pelted. It’s not a preventative [for] pain, it’s a resource in the event of pain.”
The gospel is what saw Brother and Sister Runia through the sudden death of their oldest son, Ryan. He passed away in 2013 at age 31 due to undetected hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, leaving behind his wife and their four children.
“This grief and loss continue to wash over us,” Sister Runia said. “We just miss him so much. But his death has also cemented our family and faith.”
That experience later gave the Runias deep empathy for what Elder Zimmerman’s parents were going through.
“It was really tender to call and talk to [Elder Zimmerman’s] parents,” Sister Runia said. “You can never make it any easier … but [we tried] to just sit with them and feel a little bit of the pain they were experiencing.”
The gospel also helped the Runias show love and support to a son who came out as gay during his high school years.
“Helping him try to navigate that … was really a great learning experience,” Sister Runia said. “You know, after Christ finished washing is apostles’ feet during the Last Supper, He taught them, ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.’ So if Christ discerns His disciples by the quality of their love, then families must be the classroom where we put that love into practice.”
In the last video President and Sister Runia made for their missionaries before leaving Australia, Sister Runia told them that living the gospel can be like braiding three strands together.
The first strand is faith, centered in Jesus Christ rather than in outcomes. The second strand is hope, a revealed assurance that all things shall work together for one’s good (Doctrine and Covenants 98:3). And the third strand is joy, which Sister Runia said she can feel even in the midst of difficulties. Because of faith and hope, her heart can be of good cheer.
“I really believe that we came [to earth] to have experience,” she said. “And at the end of all of this, I think one of the beautiful things is that we’ll look back on all that has happened in this life not through a lens of pain … [but] through a lens of growth and gratitude.”
She also tried to teach each of her missionaries that every soul they meet is as precious as their own — from their companion to the person they pass on the street to opponents during a ward basketball game.
Knowing the worth of another person’s soul “informs almost every other decision you make. … In any setting, what matters is what happens between people.”
Sharing God’s love
Sister Runia’s mission wasn’t the only place she gained valuable experience. In addition to her other Church callings, she has served as a stake Young Women president.
She also spent 20 years on the board of the Food & Care Coalition in Provo, which she got involved with after her father passed away when she was 30.
She was in the temple seeking solace at that time, Sister Runia said, and received the distinct impression that she wasn’t doing enough for others.
Though the prompting was initially a little frustrating, as her life was already full of many good things, Sister Runia said she remembered hearing about a woman who distributed small boxes among local restaurants to collect donations for people struggling with homelessness.
“I just kept thinking, ‘Somebody should really do that here,’” Sister Runia said.
The next day, she drove to the Food & Care Coalition and introduced herself. They went to work, and before long, several local restaurants had agreed to set out donation boxes. “It was such a wonderful experience.”
In her 20 years serving with the organization, Sister Runia said she learned that not everyone gets an equal start in life.
“Our brothers and sisters … deserve to feel God’s love through us, if at all possible,” she said.
Now, as she prepares to serve girls all over the world, Sister Runia hopes the young women will remember that they are seen, known and loved by their Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
They also have internal mechanisms to guide them home. While serving in Australia, Sister Runia said she was fascinated by the migrating whales passing by Sydney that knew where to head for warmer waters and, later, where and how to return.
“I remember saying to Scott: ‘How do they know how to get back home? What is the internal mechanism?’” Sister Runia said. “I feel like each of us has that innate inner device or core … that is pulling us back, drawing us back, to heavenly parents.”
Sister Runia said there are so many important gospel principles to teach the young women, but before anything else, they have to connect with their Savior, who is waiting with open arms.
“If we can help this rising generation learn that He will never leave [them], even when [they] fall, then that will be the thing that tethers them,” she said. “And that is what covenants do.”
About Sister Runia
Family: Born in Concord, California, on March 2, 1961, and grew up in Walnut Creek, California. Daughter of Vincent Alma Wood and Gail Hilton Wood. Married R. Scott Runia on May 23, 1981, in the Oakland California Temple; they are the parents of seven children and 16 grandchildren.
Education: Studied broadcast journalism at Brigham Young University.
Civic service: 20 years with the Food & Care Coalition in Provo, Utah, and 20 years on the Provo City Parks and Recreation Board.
Church service: Australia Sydney Mission leader, stake Young Women president, stake Relief Society presidency counselor, stake scripture class instructor and, most recently, Primary music leader and missionary preparation class teacher.