On a patch of prime real estate that fills less than one square mile lives and breathes a tiny enclave of Christ-followers. They can’t be called a church in this constitutional monarchy; instead they’re deemed a “cultic association.” In a strange twist of circumstance a man who grew up in one of the poorest countries—and one who swore he’d never be a pastor—leads this congregation of seventy or so in one of the richest, most affluent places on earth.
Jim Beerley (MA[BS], 1992), his wife, Mary, and their three children Austin, Tyler, and Téa, serve a multigenerational, multinational church in Monte Carlo, the capital of the tiny nation of Monaco (population 35,000). The Monaco Christian Fellowship (MCF), an international English-speaking congregation, rents space from the Reformed Church of Monaco just one block from the shoreline where yachts and cruise ships moor. Jim is MCF’s pastor, and he has served there twelve years, a stint that started as a four-month interim assignment from CrossWorld.
From Haiti, with love
Before they moved to Monaco in the fall of 1994, Jim and Mary served Christ as missionaries in Haiti. Yet civil war erupted there, and an embargo made it too difficult to remain. The Beerleys planned to gain ministry experience for a short time in Monaco and return to Haiti as soon as possible. After four months in Monte Carlo, however, the congregation asked them to stay a little longer, something the Beerleys continued to do for the next three years, though Jim battled homesickness, longing to return to Haiti where he grew up.
“It became increasingly clear that God wanted us to stay here,” Jim said. “One day a woman asked me if we were going to stay or leave. I told her that it looked like God was keeping us here. I’ll never forget her reply: ‘Maybe God is keeping you here to reach people like me.’ It was as if God slapped me upside the head and said, ‘This is not about you!’ That lady eventually gave her life to Christ before she returned to the States.”
Despite the area’s wealth, life in this Mediterranean community is not easy, particularly on families. “The kids are affected by the prevalent attitude of entitlement and judging by externals,” Jim said. “Years ago our eldest son asked why we didn’t rent a Ferrari when we were back in the States. What my kids consider ‘normal’ is far from the case for most of the world.”
Jim grew up as a missionary kid in Haiti, miles and worlds away from affluence. Yet he believes living in Haiti uniquely prepared him to minister to the people of Monaco—called Monegasque—because he came face to face with abject financial poverty. Poverty comes in many forms, though, and even in Monte Carlo, Jim encounters a type of poverty that affects more than the checkbook.
“Here I have run up against a spiritual and emotional poverty that is impossible to see and difficult to address,” he says, “but it is much more debilitating than much of the physical poverty I saw in Haiti.”
Curt Detwiler, an MCF elder and missionary with Trans World Radio, agrees. “In Monaco the average person has more than the ordinary amounts of money and worldliness in terms of their experiences, travel, and ambition.” Yet Curt believes Jim is uniquely qualified to face the challenge. “Jim has the ability to relate to people at all levels. It’s not unusual to find him relating as easily to the young and old as well as to the ‘wanna-haves’ and the ‘haves-a-lot.’”
Challenging predominant attitudes about wealth and spiritual need is only one of the obstacles the Beerleys face. Because Monaco is a transient society where most people stay two or three years on a work contract, Jim laments that training leaders is frustrating. Just as one leader is trained, he returns to his home country or she is transferred, leaving a gap that will have to be filled again by another person in transition. “As a result,” Jim said, “we’ve now adopted the mindset that we’re like a spiritual gas station. We take people in, fill them up, and send them out—hopefully better equipped to serve in their home churches than they were when they came here.”
Evangelical faith in Western Europe is declining. Most people don’t see the church or Christianity as relevant, nor do they see how faith and a person’s day-to-day life connect. Jim and Mary understood this afresh when they were invited to a Christmas party to add what the host called a “Christian perspective” to the celebration. Jim read the passage in Luke about the shepherds keeping watch. Afterward a woman approached him and said, “That reading was beautiful. Where did you find that?”
“If I had a million dollars for everyone I’ve met who could tell me the basic, essential truths of Christianity, I’d be a pauper,” Jim said.
Going the distance
Even so, MCF is making quiet inroads into its community. Though the law prevents the Beerleys from overt evangelism, they do host Bible studies, facilitate youth groups, and equip their congregation to be ambassadors for Christ. Jim baptizes new believers in the Mediterranean Sea. “I tell people they’re the same waters that lapped against the shores of Israel
during the time of Christ.”
In December 2005 a journalist wrote in a surprisingly positive Monaco Times article, “Every Sunday [around] 60–70 gather each week to worship with this multi-national, Bible-based, non-denominational group. The atmosphere is wonderfully informal. … As Jim explains: ‘Christianity is not just a religion, or about what you can or cannot do. It’s about a personal relationship with God. Each person needs to come to the Father [through] Jesus Christ Himself.’” Tom and Elly Streeter, founding members of MCF, agree with the portrayal. “Jim has a passion for truth and shares it unashamedly.”
Dr. Walt Baker (ThM, 1957), professor emeritus of World Missions and Intercultural Studies at Dallas Seminary, has known Jim since he was a baby in Haiti. Having witnessed Jim’s zeal for ministry, Dr. Baker has most appreciated Jim’s relational abilities and his musical abilities. “Jim’s love for the Lord has been best expressed to me through our relationship and also the music he has written,” he said.
In spite of the illusory appearance of ease, Jim and Mary have faithfully served Christ in a difficult place. Yet God has given them joy serving at MCF. “We have yacht owners and yacht workers fellowshipping freely together. And we have a variety of church traditions represented, from charismatic to hyper-conservative. In spite of this we are able to commune together around our two basic pillars—the Bible is the Word of God, and salvation is a free gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone.”
Mary DeMuth (Patrick, ThM, 2003) is the author of several books, including Building the Christian Home You Never Had and Wishing on Dandelions.