In his teenage years, Bruno Frigoli was an Italian soldier and fought for Mussolini in World War II. After he was tried and acquitted of war crimes, he decided to start a new life in Bolivia, where he converted to Christ. Bruno became an Assemblies of God minister and missionary, serving in both Bolivia and the United States.
Bruno Robert Frigoli (1926-2020) was born in Ronchi dei Legionari, Northern Italy. His father was a lieutenant colonel in the Italian army, and at the age of 17, Bruno joined the war effort as a soldier under Mussolini. He attended a military college in Italy and trained for specialized anti-guerilla operations. He received several commendations for his work in this kind of warfare. He became a first lieutenant in the Italian army with the special troops of the Alps and took part in several dangerous missions.
In his last mission, before the collapse of the Italian army, he and a fellow officer were chosen to scout out an area, and they were ambushed. The other officer was killed by a barrage of bullets. Frigoli’s ear was grazed, so he decided to lay down on the ground next to the other officer to pretend he also had been killed. Later that night, once the coast was clear, he crawled and staggered back to camp, bringing the body of his comrade with him so that he would have the honor of a military funeral.
When the war ended, Frigoli and other Italian officers were confined to a prison at Sondrio, Italy. Over time, each of them were brought to trial for their war crimes, and 12 out of 13 of them were executed. Only Bruno remained. When it was his turn to come to trial, the Catholic chaplain took the opportunity to speak favorably of Bruno. He said that Bruno was a kind-hearted man. He could not be a brutal killer and was only carrying out orders. Something changed the attitude of the prosecutor, and suddenly he pronounced that Officer Frigoli should be freed. The judge said, “Cleared. Not guilty! You are free to go.”
Even with his freedom, there were still people who wanted Bruno dead because of his previous involvement with the Fascist army. He determined that he must leave Italy. He managed to scrape up enough money to travel to Argentina to begin a new life, and there he became a construction foreman under the Argentine government, overseeing a thousand workers. He married a hometown sweetheart from Italy named Tilly, and they had three children together. Even with successes in his life, he felt unsettled.
Eventually a friend convinced Bruno that riches awaited him in the jungles of northern Bolivia. He left his construction business in Bariloche, Argentina, and went to the Beni area of Bolivia in search of gold. After discouraging results from the search for gold, he established himself in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, working in the lumber industry. He became the manager of a sawmill that his wife’s family had purchased.
One day Bruno was traveling from Santa Cruz toward the jungle. He flung his army shirt over the back of the seat. After several hours he noticed the shirt was gone, and it had all his important documents in it. By this time it was getting dark. What was he going to do? He came across two women, Pearl Estep and Flora Shafer, who were Assemblies of God missionaries. They were traveling toward Santa Cruz. He told them about losing the shirt somewhere along the way. He asked if they would look for it and return it to him when he came back to the city. If they found it, the best place to meet, they said, was the church.
Bruno agreed to meet them at their church on his return trip. He arrived at the church in time for the morning service, and he met the pastor, missionary Everett Hale. The pastor told him the women had not returned, but if he would come to the evening service, he could talk to them. The women came to the evening service, but they had been unable to locate the shirt.
Bruno was not very impressed with the little church and was disappointed that his shirt was not found. But something about the church caused him to return. On Good Friday, April 3, 1953, a guest preacher from the Salvation Army preached. Bruno and his brother-in-law, Leonardo, both were in attendance. The message was about the Prodigal Son, and both of the men felt like they needed God. They both went forward at the altar call and prayed for salvation. One year later, Bruno received the baptism in the Holy Spirit at a church in La Paz, Bolivia.
Soon after this, Bruno began preparing for ministry. He became a Sunday School superintendent and pioneered a new assembly at the edge of the jungle. He was anxious to serve God in any way possible. He asked himself repeatedly, “Am I doing enough?” He wanted to step into full-time ministry.
Then tragedy struck. The Frigolis were in a terrible auto accident, and Tilly was killed. Bruno suffered major injuries and was flown back to Italy to recover. His three children were placed with Tilly’s parents. He eventually returned to Bolivia, and he became a full-time pastor.
Bruno received local ordination in December 1961. He attended Central Bible Institute in Springfield, Missouri, in 1962. During this same time he met his wife, Frances Ruth (Hiddema) Frigoli, who was serving as a missionary nurse in Bolivia. They were married on June 18, 1962.
Bruno received U.S. ordination through the New Jersey District in October 1967 while serving as a missionary. At that time he was pastor of the Evangelistic Center of the Assemblies of God, which was Bolivia’s largest Protestant church and located in the heart of La Paz, the capital city. He also served as the national secretary before becoming general superintendent of the Assemblies of God in Bolivia. He was an international Bible teacher, and he also was in charge of a night Bible school in Bolivia. He served on various boards, including the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.
The Frigolis served together as missionaries in Bolivia, Peru, and Argentina for 30 years. They also worked for LIFE Publishers. Frances passed away in July 2019, and Bruno passed away on May 10, 2020, in Grandville, Michigan.
In an interview with Bruno Frigoli in 1972, he shared about his amazing conversion and his subsequent missionary work in Bolivia and Latin America. He had been trained to fight in anti-guerrilla warfare in the Alps of Italy and ended up becoming a soldier of the Cross in the Andes of South America.
Frigoli’s story was also featured in a Revivaltime booklet produced by C. M. Ward that outlined his testimony of a former Fascist who later served Christ as a missionary in Bolivia.
Read “From the Alps to the Andes” on page 24 of the June 18, 1972, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “The Day That Changed My Life,” by Glen Bonds
• “Outreach to a College Community”
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
Caption: Bruno Frigoli (right), who ministered to Colonel Banzer’s soldiers in 1958, presenting a Bible to Hugo Banzer, president of Bolivia, in 1972.