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Petite, feisty, and fiery. That was Molly Bruno, an Assemblies of God pastor’s wife who ministered alongside her husband of 72 years, Joseph, for decades.
But it wasn’t Bruno’s service to the church that drew the attention of the Christian filmmakers, Stephen, Alex, and Shannon Kendrick — it was Bruno’s unique relationship with Christ. Although this Italian mother of two was a fine mother and wife, the role she fulfilled beyond all others was that of a prayer warrior or, for those who know her full story, perhaps “God’s prayer partner” would be a more apt description.
“As a child, I can remember my parents [Joseph and Molly Bruno] seeking God as I fell asleep at night, and then waking up to them praising God in the mornings,” says Marie (Bruno) Armenia, who serves with her husband Phil as worship leaders at GraceLand Community Church (AG) in Franklin, Tennessee.
Armenia says that her mother’s powerful prayer life was well known in the New York area where the couple pastored. “She would receive calls all the time from people for her to pray for them,” Armenia says. “And when I would receive a call from a friend, many times it was simply for me to ask my mother to pray for them about something.”
But Bruno wasn’t one to give God a prayer list and walk away. Instead every day she had her “morning coffee” with God. Most might view this time with God as prayer time; but for Bruno, it was more like getting together with her best friend every morning for a heart-to-heart conversation. Sometimes she brought requests, but many times she would simply pray, weep in His presence, then read the Bible in order to hear from the Lord that day.
“The Bible was God speaking to her,” Armenia says. “It’s was a real and living Word from God every morning.”
Armenia explains that her mother lived Hebrews 11:6. She knew God because she sought God.
“She did not seek answers to prayer, she sought a relationship with Him,” Armenia says. “The Bible says He rewards those who diligently seek Him. He rewards them with His presence . . . so when she would pray for something, it was like someone asking a friend for a favor — a friend who knew her so well, He knew the request before she even asked.”
Bruno’s prayer life exuded from her being and the presence of God drew others to her. Her mission field was wherever she was — at church, on the street, in a bank, in a store. And when she prayed, God answered, often in miraculous ways, but to her, answered prayer was just the “icing on the cake” of being in His presence.
In addition to seeking God in her personal life, Bruno was also the mentor of many younger women at their church in Staten Island, New York. “She referred to them as ‘my girls,’” Armenia says.
GraceLand Community Church Pastor Ralph Duncan says Molly and Joseph, having moved to the area to be near family later in life, attended the church a few times before health issues kept Joseph homebound.
“I remember the first time they came, although I didn’t know who they were at the time, but Joseph was in his wheelchair with Molly sitting beside him,” Duncan recalls. “I was coming from the back of the church and I went to walk by them when suddenly the presence of the Lord was just so powerful. I paused and knelt right there, by the side of Joseph’s wheelchair, and just prayed and praised God.”
This life of relationship with God that Molly Bruno lived and exhorted others to pursue was what she was all about, yet she dreamed of more. Armenia recalls her mother stating numerous times, “I wish someone would put a camera in my face so I can tell the world Jesus loves them!”
Little did Bruno know that her daily Prayer Partner fully understood this heart-felt desire and was working to fulfill that longing to share His love.
The path to answering Bruno’s desire is fairly remarkable. Although a Pentecostal, Armenia writes for Lifeway, the Southern Baptist publisher. The Kendrick brothers, Stephen, Alex, and Shannon, are Southern Baptists. Brenda Harris is Armenia’s friend and one of her former editors at Lifeway — Harris now works directly with the Kendrick brothers and their movie scripts. Through working with Armenia, Harris had learned about Bruno, who ultimately became Harris’ prayer mentor. So, when the Kendrick brothers began discussing the film, War Room, and needing a person to model the movie’s prayer warrior, Miss Clara, after, Harris spoke up.
“They originally planned to do a 30-minute Skype interview with mom,” Armenia says. “At first, mom was unsure because she didn’t know anything about the movies the Kendricks have made (Courageous, Fireproof, Facing the Giants), but after speaking to Stephen for awhile, she turned and tells me, ‘This boy loves Jesus!’ Three hours later, the interview concluded and Kendrick brothers knew mom was the real live ‘Miss Clara’ they’d been looking for.”
However, the men had no idea just how much of an influence Bruno would have on the movie — far beyond that of simply shaping the character of Miss Clara.
“Mom had a gift of discernment from the Holy Spirit; knowing what to pray and when to pray,” Armenia says. “So, every day she would pray for the movie and every day, she would call or send Brenda an email to tell them what God had revealed to her — from a need a cast member had to encouragement to keep Jesus in the forefront of the movie.”
“When I finally met Molly, I considered it an inspired, divine appointment to see a living representation of the heart and faith we planned to show in the film,” Stephen Kendrick said in a letter of tribute to the family. “I heard about her God-given dreams helping her to know how to pray in light of coming events . . . [she] had me laughing, in tears, and held spellbound with the stories of answered prayer in her life and what it means to walk with God.”
Kendrick confirms that Bruno undergirded the entire project in prayer — from writing, to casting, to filming, staying up late at her home to pray when the crew stayed up late filming in North Carolina, stating, “I vividly remember being at the production office and seeing our lead actress, Priscilla Shirer, on her knees and in tears as she listened to Molly praying for her over the phone before we began the production.”
Kendrick says Bruno was a gift from God to the War Room movie.
“Looking back,” he wrote, “I can’t help but thank the Lord for the unexpected, priceless blessing to work on a movie and a book about the power of prayer, and to have Him raise up one of the godliest and most prayerful women in our nation to intercede on our behalf the entire time.”
Armenia says the Lord revealed many things to her mother about the movie. One of those things was that it was going to be the number-one movie in the country. “She told me that the Lord has spoke to her and told her the movie was going to revolutionize everyone who sees it,” Armenia says.
Prior to the movie’s theatrical debut, Bruno fell ill, with cancer taking her life on June 6, 2015. Stephen Kendrick, however, had Sony provide her a preview copy of the movie, so she could experience it prior to the official release. Just five weeks after Molly passed, Joseph joined her.
Armenia says her mom’s impossible desire to tell the world Jesus loves them is coming to pass. Not only has her life been instrumental in sharing Jesus’ love throughout the United States with War Room, the DVD is now being distributed in 50 countries around the world. In addition, the book Armenia wrote about her mother’s life, How to Make a Meatball, which she had started prior to any news about the War Room movie, is going to be translated into Portuguese, with a focus on Brazil, where millions of Assemblies of God adherents reside and can be encouraged to revolutionize their prayer lives as well.
“Miracles seemed to surround my mother’s life,” Armenia says. “Healings, improbable salvations, divine wisdom, answers to prayer, God-given dreams, revelations . . . . ““The DVD of the movie has an interview with Miss Molly and Stephen Kendrick as a bonus feature — it is powerful,” says Pastor Duncan. “When you hear about her prayer life, her walk with God, it is mind boggling — it’s like reading the Book of Acts . . . they [Joseph and Molly] were almost like angels incarnate, both of them!”