OREM — When Thomas Petrungaro walked into the Missionary Mall looking for deals on LDS mission clothing and supplies, he wasn’t expecting a miracle.
Petrungaro, who was working as an Especially for Youth counselor in Provo, went shopping with a returned-missionary friend, Kristen Ford, on July 6, one month before the date he was scheduled to enter the Mexico City Missionary Training Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He had spent the previous year living in Buena Vista, Va., and working to save money for his mission after receiving a bachelor’s degree from Southern Virginia University in 2012. A convert to the LDS Church, Petrungaro said the financial aspect of serving a mission had “been of some concern.”
As Petrungaro and Ford entered the Missionary Mall, they noticed a sign on the door announcing, "We will be filming today for advertising reasons. Be aware you may be on camera.”
“We thought nothing of it,” Petrungaro said. “The sales clerk, Ben, was very honest and helpful about his favorite shoe and recommended one that he wore on his mission. It was a neat environment being in the store with a few other prospective missionaries and their families.”
After striking up a conversation with a young man from Tucson, Ariz., — where Petrungaro was called to serve a Spanish-speaking mission — Petrungaro picked out a pair of shoes and made his way to the checkout counter.
“A man with a microphone in his hand swooped in and told me that he was with Deseret First Credit Union and that they were in today to help missionaries and show support to the LDS community,” said Petrungaro.
Spencer Walker, a business relationship officer at Deseret First, then told Petrungaro that Deseret First would like to pay for his purchase that day.
“I was shocked and speechless,” said Petrungaro. “These were $150 shoes!”
Walker proceeded to interview Petrungaro and ask him where he would be serving. Ford told Walker that Petrungaro was the only convert to the LDS Church in his family, and serving a mission had come with some financial concerns.
“As Kristen finished, the cameraman stopped rolling, took the lens from his eye, and with a very loving expression told me, ‘With that said, Thomas, today we don’t only want to buy your shoes, we would like you to leave this counter, go down the aisles and get anything and everything you need for your mission — on us,’” said Petrungaro.
The sales clerk then began fitting Petrungaro in a new suit with two sets of pants. Petrungaro picked out 10 shirts, five pairs of slacks, a second pair of shoes, seven washable ties, a three-piece luggage set and a hydration backpack. Deseret First paid a total of $1,268 for Petrungaro’s mission supplies, as captured on the video taken by the credit union. He was one of 15 young men who received financial support from Deseret First that day in the Missionary Mall.
After Petrungaro and Walker talked more, they discovered Walker was the nephew of Petrungaro’s bishop in his ward in the Buena Vista YSA Stake, which serves the large population of LDS young adults who attend Southern Virginia University and live in the surrounding community.
“Michael Walker was the bishop who submitted my papers, (and his wife,) Sister Karen Walker, was instrumental in teaching me about the temple,” said Petrungaro.
Karen Walker, an assistant professor of family and child development and director of academic success at Southern Virginia University, said she and her husband “were overcome by the amazing tender mercy extended to Thomas.”
“I am definitely grateful and humbled by this miracle,” said Petrungaro. “A quote (from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in the April 2012 general conference) comes to mind: ‘Surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it.’ My miracles are not only beautiful and inspiring to me, but they fill me with a great responsibility to be the best missionary I can be and to serve the Lord with faith and cheerfulness.”
Hannah Benson Rodriguez is lead writer and editor at Southern Virginia University. She received a bachelor's degree from Southern Virginia and currently resides in Buena Vista, Va.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company