by Andy Butcher
With more than a million visitors and their wallets drawn there each year by its picture-postcard beaches, terrific climate and great diving, Aruba was for years one of the most prosperous parts of the Caribbean—until the coronavirus pandemic. The resulting travel shutdown effectively turned off the main pipeline of the tiny island nation’s economy, leaving many without work and the country just 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela known as “One Happy Island” essentially bankrupt.
As a longtime pastor, Marco Berlis naturally had words of comfort and encouragement for those affected. But his attempts to help didn’t end there; he also won a seat in Aruba’s 21-member parliament, to be part of bringing renewed life to his community. He wants to see Aruba “be governed responsibly and to see to it that it can thrive on new resources and economic pillars.”
Berlis was voted in as a member of the MEP (Movimiento Electoral di Pueblo) Party last fall, campaigning on four main platforms: economic diversification, new integrity laws for politicians, a social plan for struggling families, and reform of visa regulations and the current prison system.
Biblical themes of caring for others and justice can be seen in those issues, and they informed his decision to step into the political arena. It wasn’t as instant a move as it may have seemed to some, however. “Very early in my ministry years, over 10 years ago, I started to feel the call to government,” he says. “I knew that God had given me that impression; I just knew that it wasn’t the appointed time yet.”
Then, in 2020 came a connection with the MEP through a family member. “The committee of the party interviewed me, then the Prime Minister did and within three days they accepted me within the party as an official candidate,” Berlis says. “It all happened ‘suddenly,’ however I knew it was God.”
Fulfilling a promise
Part of Berlis’s acceptance was a result of how Celebrations Church, which he and his wife, Roselyn, have led in the capital, Oranjestad, for more than 15 years, was well known for its work in the community—“from helping deliver food to those who didn’t have it, to counseling families, marriage, youth in trouble, sheltering people and so much more.”
A fourth-generation Aruban—his grandparents came to the island from the Dominican Republic in the 1940s—Berlis came to faith as a teenager. His parents weren’t happy with his attending a Pentecostal church, so he stopped, but “I promised the Lord I would return when I was old enough to make my own decisions.”
He followed through on that pledge in his 20s, later spending two years in Bible school before beginning in ministry. In the early days, that was alongside regular jobs in the casino and hotel industry, including positions at the Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino and the Marriott Vacation Club. He was also sales manager at Diamonds International for nine years.
A leader of an established church in a small country—Aruba’s population is just 115,000 (about the size of Wilmington, North Carolina)—Berlis was already fairly well-known. “All our services are online, and people can follow them,” he says. “When I become part of the party, they already knew that I was a pastor.”
Indeed, prior to becoming a candidate, he and Roselyn were asked to pray for Aruba on national television. “This happened many times,” he says. “It was God paving the way for us… the Aruban community knows who I am and what I stand for: we love Jesus!”
With politics in Aruba at times divisive and contentious just like it is everywhere, Berlis hopes to be “a bridge, a unifying factor and a hope for a different kind of politics.” He has been encouraged by the support he has received from family, friends and other Christians—several of whom are also involved in the government.
Following a call
Taking on his new responsibilities in addition to continuing to pastor has been challenging, with long days. It has been demanding to learn and understand how things work, he says. “However, I love it and I am very eager to learn.” Balancing all his commitments and family life has been hard, so he is very thankful for his wife and two daughters, Naftali and Elisha, supporting him “100%.”
What about those who feel that pastors should stick to ministry and leave politics to others? He cites 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, which speaks of how Christians all have a different ministry, calling and purpose. “When we understand this, we will also understand that some people won’t agree with our convictions,” he says, “and that is OK. If they want to stick in sharing the gospel, let them be!
“But if you are called to be in the marketplace or in government, then do what the Lord has shown you. God has called us to influence in places of government like Joseph, Esther, Daniel, the kings of the Bible, David and others.” Praying and testifying are important yet they are not the only things, he says; “obedience to the Holy Spirit,” is essential. In addition, he notes, God calls people in authority like police and the government servants of God.
He points to Romans 13:3-4: “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. If they are servants of God, how much more if we are positioned in those places?”
Berlis names Betico Crones as a role model—the former Prime Minister of Aruba and founder of the MEP, who died in 1986, is celebrated for leading Aruba’s move to independence from the Netherland Antilles (the country is now part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands). The scripture that guides him is Proverbs 29:2 (KJV): “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.”
Leaving a legacy
As both a Member of Parliament and a pastor, Berlis has a long-term vision, which has also inspired another pursuit. “I believe that although my life span is limited, what I leave behind can keep on inspiring and touching lives for ages to come,” he says. With that in mind, he has authored five books in the last couple of years.
Written in Aruba’s native Papiamento language, they center on the theme of life’s purpose. “I do believe that everyone has been designed by God to live out his purpose in a certain appointed time slot,” he says, “starting with our birth and ending with our death. Anything in between these two is the ‘time of God’ for our life. Life is a gift. Life is an opportunity. I choose to inspire life and purpose in the midst of a world filled with confusion, pain, rejection, depression, war, sickness and chaos.”
Through writing, he believes he can “save lives without being present. But most of all, I can reach out to people for the kingdom in ways and places I could never imagine and never be.”
Berlis has some advice for those who might similarly feel called to get involved in public service as he has. “Prepare and study for this calling if possible,” he says. “Get your degrees, but more than anything, guard your heart, have a strong sense of integrity, build up a good testimony and make sure it is the Lord who is directing your steps and not selfish ambition. If you are sure, go for it!”
This article was extracted from Issue 4 of Inspire Magazine (Spring 2022).