Inside the Story: Kearns pastor saving souls, lives at church and in the pool

Inside the Story: Kearns pastor saving souls, lives at church and in the pool (Photo: KUTV)

(KUTV) Tragedy at a reservoir led to healing at a recreation center for a Methodist church in Kearns, Utah.

It all has to do with swimming lessons taught by the pastor.

On June 25, 2016, 31-year-old Penoni Mounga, also known as Noni, lost his life when he drowned while swimming across Blackridge Reservoir in Herriman during a church activity.

Timote Houma, 27, was on the shoreline, and felt helpless because no one knew how to swim.

"It was difficult sitting there on the beach, watching him struggle," Houma said.

Mounga was a member at the Trinity United Methodist Church in Kearns where he was known for his beautiful voice. His death was a devastating blow to members, including Houma.

"He was always happy every time at church," he said. "You could hear his voice singing every time we walked through the halls. His voice uplifted everyone at the church."

That's why the church's pastor, Rob Bruendl, decided to teach his members how to swim.

"Our slogan is 'Never Again.' We never want to lose a person because they can't help themselves," Bruendl said.

He teaches his flock how to swim at the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center. He calls it Swimming for Noni.

"I feel like I'm accomplishing a goal of keeping my people safe," he said.

Houma is one of his students.

"Just being at the deep end scares me. I don't have the energy or the stamina to tread water," Houma said.

But Pastor Bruendl's lessons have done more than just teach people how to swim. It has helped heal broken souls who are trying to deal with the sudden loss of a dear member.

"We've turned it into something that is healing and helping us grow as a church, as a people," Bruendl said. "That makes it all worth while."

Especially when you see members like Houma gain confidence and overcome fears of being in the water.

"It helps me just break that fear, because every time I'm in the water I think I'm going to drown," he said.

The U.S. Masters Swimming Association heard about the story of the tragedy at Blackridge Reservoir, and is giving Pastor Bruendl a grant to run his swimming program.

The hope is that those he's teaching to swim can then begin to help others to learn how to swim.