Updated: Jul 24, 2020
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
There once was a Haitian boy who began his life in the humblest of beginnings but led by the Lord would grow up to do great things and change many people’s lives. That boy was Jean Monique Bruno. Jean Monique was born in the small rural town of Croix-des-Bouquets, not far from Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, in July 1945. The fourth of 7 children born to a shoemaker and a dressmaker, there wasn’t much fanfare to his arrival but God had a plan. Jean Monique was blessed to attend school in a country with a literacy rate hovering around 60%. Despite losing his father at the age of 9, he managed to stay in school. With hard work and good fortune, he graduated and continued on to seminary with a dream of becoming an Episcopal priest and educator.
By the 1980’s the young priest was in charge of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city. Led by his conviction that education is key to helping his country change its social and economic situation, he had by that time built a primary school, an elementary school, a vocational school for young men and women, and an agricultural school! Some people might have slowed down, resting on the laurels of all they had accomplished, but Father Bruno is cut from a different cloth. His lifelong dream was to return to his father’s beloved rural home of Terrier Rouge in northern Haiti and build an elementary and secondary school there. He held that prayer in his heart having faith that God would provide a way.
In 1985, a recent college graduate, Clai Rice, was introduced to Father Bruno through his local Episcopal church in Athens, Georgia. Feeling called to serve in some capacity, he asked Father Bruno if he could come to Haiti and teach in one of his schools there. Father Bruno was happy to accept. Once there, Clai realized he was serving not only God but a great servant of God and that Father Bruno’s mission to educate Haitians was in fact an answered calling. Clai encouraged his family to join him in Haiti to meet Father Bruno and hear of his mission to improve the lives of Haitians through education. This mission became the inspiration for Bethlehem Ministry, Inc., the U.S.-based nonprofit started by the Rice’s and created to support Bruno’s vision. The name Bethlehem Ministry was chosen by Father Bruno because, “Bethlehem means House of Bread and we are going to be about feeding the poor and hungry. We want to offer the Spiritual Bread to everyone who crosses our path.”
For over 30 years, Bethlehem Ministry has worked hard to do just that, raising funds to support Father Bruno’s mission of feeding, educating, and sharing the Gospel of Christ in service to the poor of northern Haiti. In 2002, Father Bruno’s prayer to build a school in Terrier Rouge
was answered. St. Barthélémy School
welcomed its first class of preschoolers that year and it grew alongside those children, expanding over the years, eventually reaching completion with the building of the high school in 2012. Today over 1,000 students are educated, fed, and nurtured at St. Bart’s each school year. The education they receive includes music, sports, language, philosophy, and regular church services led by Father Bruno. He is a beloved figure on campus and in the community.
Since the opening of St. Barthelemy’s in 2002, Bethlehem Ministry has expanded the scope of its fundraising support to include the broader vision of the Haitian NGO, Espérance et Vie (Hope and Life), overseen by Father Bruno. One such vision was a clinic built in 2009 to bring services such as eye and dental care, prenatal care, and emergency services to northeast Haiti. Today that clinic, Clinique Espérance et Vie, sees 12,000 patients a year. Babies have been born there, surgeries performed, cavities filled, vaccinations administered, and visiting U.S. doctors welcomed. It is truly a clinic of hope and life.
In addition to supporting education and health care initiatives, Bethlehem Ministry raises funds to support the efforts of Father Bruno and the NGO as they work tirelessly to provide food and humanitarian aid to the communities of northeast Haiti. Life in Haiti is challenging on a normal day, and unexpected crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters, and civil unrest are devastating. To stem the spread of COVID-19, the NGO has organized efforts to bring soap, face masks, and food to families sheltering-in-place; when disasters such as floods and earthquakes occur, they provide shelter and food and help to rebuild the community; during times of civil unrest (not uncommon in Haiti), Espérance et Vie is there bringing food and supplies to people afraid to leave their homes. Bringing food to the poor is the common thread running through the work of Espérance et Vie. Even in the best of times in Haiti, there are people who are hungry, children who are malnourished. Father Bruno knows firsthand what it is like to be desperately hungry. He has said of his humble origins, “It is a blessing for me because it has helped me to understand the problem of hunger and poverty in general for I have lived them in my own body."
Over the years, many people have traveled to Terrier Rouge to visit Father Bruno and see for themselves the good works happening there. Some travelers are so inspired by Father Bruno and the Haitian people that they begin their own projects. One such traveler was Rob Fisher, an award-winning landscape architect from Athens, GA. He and his wife Barbara started Jatrofa Projenou in 2008. Jatrofa Projenou (JP) works to reduce rural poverty in Haiti through sustainable economic development, forestry, and farming. Bethlehem Ministry supports the work of Jatrofa Projenou because it is in keeping with their mission that the empowerment of the Haitian people is the key to Haitian sustainability. As good stewards of God’s creation, JP’s work is healing Haiti’s fragile environment.
Father Bruno will turn 75 this year. He retired from active Parish work in 2010 after a career that blessed him with serving in Haiti as well as the Episcopal Diocese of the Dominican Republic (yes, Father Bruno is trilingual!). Today, he continues to serve, educate, feed, and care for communities in northern Haiti, as he has done for over 50 years. He is still a humble servant of God answering the call every single day. Bethlehem Ministry is blessed to support him in these good works.
To learn more about the work of Father Bruno, Espérance et Vie, and Bethlehem Ministry, please visit www.BethlehemMinistry.org.