News Release

Elder Dale G Renlund: Family experiences as Scandinavian immigrants resonate with current European events

Apostle’s Nordic roots exert strong influence on his life today

Reflecting on his rich Nordic family heritage, Elder Dale G Renlund is emphatic: “A Swedish and Finnish mentality is part of who I am – there is a huge part of me that is Swedish and Finnish”, he says.

“I am phenomenally proud of that heritage, I’m thrilled to have that”, reflects the newest apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) who has cousins living in Finland and Sweden.

Elder Renlund says he admires the Swedes’ “natural inclination to be kind, to be good, to want to share, these are character traits that I just find compelling.” 

It is the Finns’ determination and ‘grit’ (in Finnish ‘sisu’) that he most respects.  “I love the people – once committed, a Finn will always do everything he can and, when there is no more to give, he’ll continue to give”, adds Elder Renlund.

“My mother tongue is Swedish and we spoke Swedish in the home until our parents recognised that we were going to be needing to get to school.  And then our parents made a conscientious effort to speak English in the home to help their children.”

When it came to watching Olympic winter sports as he grew up in his immigrant family, Elder Renlund jokes that it was ‘win-win’ if Sweden was against Finland: “We were always cheering for Finland or Sweden, and whenever Finland and Sweden were playing each other in some Olympic sport, like ice hockey, we knew we couldn’t lose!”

Reaching out to European refugees – then and now

Coming from a home of Scandinavian immigrants has left a lasting impression on Elder Renlund.  His early family experiences continue to have great meaning for him and resonate with current European events – one million refugees and migrants have entered Europe over the past year.   

Elder Renlund’s father, Mats Åke Renlund, was born in Finland.  He arrived in Sweden towards the end of World War Two where he was interned in a refugee camp during 1944, and was to become a Swedish citizen before emigrating to the United States so he could marry his fiancé, Ragnhild Mariana Andersson, in a Mormon temple.

“Thinking about refugees in Europe and thinking about what’s happening now, to then think that my father actually experienced that first hand as a refugee in late 1944 – this may be of some interest from his perspective, from Europe’s perspective, because he experienced that.

“My father remembered to his dying day, with gratitude, the kind people of Sweden who took him in as a refugee.  It inspired him to do likewise – to be kind to others, and it was a hallmark.  You think of what Relief Society stands for – in Swedish it is ‘Hjälpföreningen’, it is a ‘help society’, it’s to render aid, it’s to help.  And so there are things that we can do as a Church, that we can do individually, and then collectively to try to help with this.  And it starts with understanding that all of these refugees are our brothers and sisters.”

Overcoming challenges through the Gospel, family, Church community

As children of immigrants from Sweden, Elder Renlund and his siblings faced many challenges.  “It was hard, we knew we were different, we knew that our parents were immigrants.  And we knew that we were separated out, but we were proud that we were different.  We were proud that we had this Finnish and Swedish heritage”, Elder Renlund says.

Closely-knit threads of family love, a sense of identity and Gospel unity provided much-needed strength.  This was especially true as the Renlund family moved back to the Nordic countries when Mats Renlund was called on a Church building mission in the early 1960s.  The family moved first to Helsinki, Finland where Mats worked on the Haaga chapel, then to Sweden. 

“We weren’t well off in this circumstance at all and I remember that we went to Trollhättan [Sweden] once with my father and there were some missionaries – it was the end of the month – who had run out of morney, thye didn't have money for food. And my mother took and gave them 10 crowns and I remember my sister and I saying to my Mom, ‘How could you do that? You know we don’t have enough ourselves.’  My Mum had said, ‘Whenever you give something to missionaries it always comes back five-fold.’  On the other side of the building a member had seen my shoes that were well-worn and had given my father 50 crowns.  And so as we discussed that as we went home, it was clear to me as a thirteen year-old that that was true.”

When Elder Renlund was 19, he went on a full-time mission to Sweden where he was again to be immersed in Swedish culture.

“I remember, in my mission as a young man, seeing people learn of the Restoration of the Gospel and see testimonies of the Saviour begin, testimonies strengthened, a willingness to make covenants.  The Atonement of Christ becoming reality in their lives is the fondest memory I have of any Church experience I’ve ever had.”

Growth in Sweden and in our personal lives

Elder Renlund says that it is gratifying to observe church growth in Sweden over the years, with a temple in Stockholm and 9,500 members today.  “To see these things happen and to see strong multi-generational families occur has just been thrilling and there is something wonderful about committed members there.”

On growing secularism, Elder Renlund remarks, “What a family would need to do in secular society is to understand what the Gospel really brings.  The Gospel brings joy and understanding and as we keep that joy and understanding in mind it helps us navigate through a secular society – to be a light to the world, to not be afraid of who we are but actually to take joy in who we are and to treat everyone the way the Saviour would have us treat them.”

As to when he will visit Sweden, Elder Renlund says, “Church President Thomas S Monson says to me ‘svensk pojke’ (’Swedish boy’) but I’m not sure when I will go to Sweden, it will be when I’m assigned and I look forward to it.”

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