Amigos Center

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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

2020 has been full of surprises, twists, and turns, as we all can attest to.

Beginning in January, I was commissioned to work with Pastor Juan Gonzalez and Beautiful Savior in the area of ministerial outreach and community development in Lehigh Acres, Florida. My purpose is to bring people and resources together as God presents the opportunity to form a new mission start and connect people to Christ through Word and Sacrament ministry.

This is to aid in fulfilling my call to Amigos en Cristo, “To plant two ethnic ministries in SW Florida and reach them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The goal of this collaboration is to meet the community’s identified needs in 5 basic areas through physical and spiritual care: 1) Community & Economic Development, 2) Business Incubation & Job Creation, 3) Eco-Village & Food Distribution, 4) Youth & Family Life Resource Center, and 5) Cultural Center for the Visual and Preforming Arts. These goals focus on a ministry of presence built on relationships. The new church plant is founded on the idea that we will be a hub for ministry and that change will only happen, if we can identify and mobilize the God-given gifts within the community. It is an approach that seeks to build strong, sustainable connections from the ‘inside out,’ through forging and nurturing relationships of care and creativity as we love God and serve others around us.

The new church plant is a life-giving tool engaging and supporting our Lehigh Acres communities, tackling poverty through education, building leadership capacity, and helping to grow healthy, resilient, and inclusive neighborhoods where all are able to participate and flourish. The Church in Christ is the epicenter for change in the family. Our collaboration is not only to see our parish families grow healthy into a viable body of Christ, but to see Lehigh Acres and the surrounding neighborhoods evangelized. It is our desire to go to people where they are, on their turf, as Jesus did in His ministry, shaping ministry by Word and deeds, meeting the people’s needs so we can then connect them to Jesus as He commands us to do.

With everything that is going on, we are presently in the Identification and Organizational phases of this new mission start. Programs are continually being developed and connections are being made daily, either virtually or in person. We are planning for more physical meetings in the up-coming months to keep the momentum going. We are seeking to mobilize people through a variety of networking and outreach platforms, as we continue to interact and engage with the residents of Lehigh Acres. Wisdom seeks council and so we are continuing to reach out and connect with several financial advisors and fundraising specialists to assist us in developing a new perpetual funding model for ministry and sustainable revenue for growth in the future. If you know of someone who has the heart for ministry and can assist us, we would be greatly appreciative. Please contact me directly for more details.

Presently, my mission and ministry are building capacity and leadership within a small group-missional community context to reflect the multicultural community we serve. Through small groups we will grow through singing, prayer, study and reflection, sacraments, and application – as people learn to: 1) Know God, 2) Find Freedom, 3) Discover Purpose, 4) Make a Difference (via our programs: Dream Team, Small Group Hosting, Meet-ups, etc.). This new ministry model creates a culture of self-feeders and generosity. This small group ministry nurtures the church to become a church of small groups, rather than a church with small groups.

Together with Beautiful Savior, we have completed a 3 to 5-year business and strategic plan for the new mission start with a clear vision, mission, purposeand value statements, including written goals and timelines for completion. Some of this I have shared with you in this update.

If it is on your heart to learn more about the wonderful things God is doing in Lehigh Acres, please connect with me. If it is your desire to assist in the ministry in some capacity, please connect with me. If you are seeking to bless us with your timetalents or treasures, please contact me. Simply put, contact me and let me know you are out there. Your prayers and support are always welcome and appreciated. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

I am here to help and called to serve.

God Bless You Now and Always!


Amigos en Cristo, Inc. d/b/a Amigos Center – April 29, 2018

This past week has been an exciting and adventurous one. At the beginning of the week one of the kids of our host family took us to different pueblos (small towns) throughout the country side. This gave Karl and I a chance to learn a bit more about the raw culture and the challenges that face the people of the DR. We met Adalgisa Gomez a cosmetologist and hair styler. It is her hope that one day she would have an institute for hair and nails.She wants to help teach others in the community a skill so that they can live better lives to provide for themselves and their families. In a letter, she asked if we knew of anyone willing to help with supplies, from as small as a comb to as big as a blow dryers. Contact me if you have questions.


After we met Adalgisa, we proceeded to go up and down the hilly country side where we saw tobacco plants growing
and storage huts for drying. We were then brought to a high point and saw a piscina (pool area) with a fantastic view. Check out the website for more amazing pictures. Once we finished our tour it was time to head back for dinner. We had an opportunity to join the rest of the family for a fish dinner at one of the local establishments. Fried or oven cooked we could have it our way.


During our class education this week, we were learning about conversational Spanish and talking about directions.We found ourselves at a memorial park dedicated to Christopher Columbus. Like many areas around Santiago, there was iron work. At this park there were the three ships most commonly associated with Columbus’ journey, as well as a few painted murals depicting his arrival.


Karl and I have been in contact with several of the missionaries and their families throughout our stay. Just this past week, the Office of International  Missions – LCMS (Latin American/ Caribbean Region) had their summit meeting in Palmar Arriba, about 30 minutes outside of town. On Monday, we were able to make contact with Ruth and Arthuro Maita  and spend some time with them. After that we met up with the president of the Venezuelan Lutheran Church and he once again thanked us for our support through Arepas Para Venezuela fundraiser. Please keep them in  your continued prayers.


It was at this time we had a tour of the LCMS mission office in Santiago. Here is a picture of all of the mission locations in LatinAmerica. The next picture is of all  thirty-two missionary families. Later on in the week after our Thursday class we took leave from assisting the instructors teaching and went to see the other  missionaries at the seminary. They had just finished their renovation and construction of the building.

The first floor is social services, the second floor is a chapel and next to that are professional education rooms and the third floor is the seminary for theological education. It was great to hear about all the mission opportunities in other countries as well as gain insight as to how to do outreach to the hispanic population in Southwest Florida.


Last, but not least, on April 25th, I received the call officially to serve as   pastor at Amigos en Cristo. This day was shared with my wife and family over Skype. I will be notifying everyone as to when the ordination service will be in upcoming blogs or through a special announcement.


Leonardo Garcia, one of the Amigos Center board members, is coming to visit us this week at the institute so I am sure we will have more to talk about next week. Please check the web page for new updated photos of our trip. Please keep us and our families in your continued prayers.

God’s Richest Blessings,

Seth DeBartolo


Dora is used to fending for herself.  But sometimes everyone needs a helping hand.  From childhood she learned to work hard.  Dora started picking Texas cotton when she was 7 years old.  She and her parents traveled from Texas to Colorado, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Ohio in search of work picking sugar beets, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes.  When she was 21 she heard that they were picking oranges in a place called Immokalee, Florida.  That is where she has lived for the past 45 years.   Though she never married she did raise one of her nephews in a trailer home she still lives in.  Hurricane Irma caused severe water damage throughout her home last September.  Now she wonders what she will do.  She heard about Amigos Center from her brother, a member of our church.  That’s why she came to Amigos Center and eventually to our Spanish worship service.  She likes that the church helps people with food and clothes.  She knows that many in Immokalee are hurting and are in need.  Now in her need, she is thankful for the emergency food and small cash assistance that Amigos Center has provided her during this prolonged recovery period.

Pray for Dora and the many others in Immokalee who are still struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

I invite you to hear more stories of “A Friend in Need” during our annual fundraising luncheon:

Wednesday, March 21 at noon 

SW Florida Events Center 11515 Bonita Beach Road SE Bonita Springs, FL  34135.  

RSVP by telephone: (239) 437-6727, or Email: 

or on our webpage:

Tulisha is one of the most memorable people you will come across when you visit our  Immokalee Amigos Center.  Her love for people shines throughfrom her smile, her assertive leadership style and boundless energy.  Before moving to Immokalee in 2015 she was a social worker in New York City. There she helped broken families and foster children navigate the legal and social service bureaucracies. It was a major culture shock for her when she first moved to Immokalee in 2015.  Compared to New York City, Immokalee seemed like a ghost town.  Her first impression was “Where are all the people?” However, she was determined to return to her birth state of Florida where her mother once worked picking cotton, vegetables and oranges.  It didn’t take her long to connect with the people of this small agricultural town of 22,000.  After coming to our Amigos Center in search of emergency food Tulisha saw what she was looking for, a place to have fun and help people.  Even though she doesn’t speak Spanish or Creole, she has been a key volunteer at the center.  She recently recruited several people and instituted a new service of home delivery of essential food items to the shut-in elderly people of Immokalee. Her arrival at the Amigos Center has also renewed her spiritual life. Tulisha says that “Before coming here I had not been to church   since my   grandmother   died in 1977.”  She has made our Sunday bilingual  worship part   of her spiritual routine.  She delights in providing the children of our congregation with special meals and snacks for special occasions. With few entertainment opportunities in Immokalee, Tulisha sees opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ by offering outdoor Christian movies and popcorn in our parking lot.  She says this is a way to keep kids out of trouble and a lot happier.  She plans on beginning this movie ministry once we finish our Vacation Bible School in June. Pray for Tulisha and her God inspired ministry in Immokalee. I invite you to hear more stories of “A Friend in Need” during our annual fundraising luncheon:

Wednesday, March 21 at noon 
SW Florida Events Center
11515 Bonita Beach Road SE Bonita Springs, FL  34135.  
RSVP by telephone: (239) 437-6727, or Email: 
or on our webpage:


        As we all get back into the norms of life, we all have time and peace of mind to look back over the past few weeks.  Before the storm there was a roller coaster of uncertainty. Early in the week, it looked like Southwest Florida was in the dead center of the dreaded “cone”.  As the week progressed, the “cone” shifted east, and we breathed a sigh of relief, but continued to prepare, just in case.  Then the realization that the storm was shifting west again, and had the potential to pass just off our coast, resulting in wind damage, but also catastrophic storm surge.  We watched with incredulous horror as this huge storm of historic proportions decimated several Caribbean islands, including St. Martin. The images coming from those islands were heartbreaking, and we worried:  would Irma do the same to OUR home?

        Like many of you, our family scrambled to prepare our home and property.  As the week progressed, we became more and more concerned, as there was NO plywood to be had anywhere, and we worried about several vulnerable windows.  We prepared as well as we could:  trimming bushes and trees and securing anything that could not be brought inside.  All the while, there was an overlying worry: how were we going to protect our windows?  However, God, in His power and goodness, was at work.  On Friday evening before the storm we still had no plywood for our windows, but around 7pm, there was a knock on the door, and there was one of our neighbors, offering several sheets of his leftover plywood.  Another neighbor had another extra sheet of plywood as well.

Thanks be to God!  On Saturday, we boarded up what we could, and tried to get everything ready to ride out the storm.  We kept a close eye on storm surge predictions, and when the worst-case scenario had our area under 6 FEET of water, we decided that it would be safer to evacuate.  That left us with a dilemma, since it was such a last-minute decision. Should we just go to Immokalee? Or north toward Orlando? Or to the east side of the state? We worried about traffic jams and lack of gasoline if we tried to go too far. Once again, God provided. After some online searching and some phone calls, we were able to locate a hotel room in Fort Lauderdale. We arrived at the hotel just as the weather was starting to turn ugly, and then learned that they had been booked for weeks. A room opened up, literally as we were looking.

      Later, someone commented that we picked a good hotel because it is a hurricane rated building.  I told them I didn’t pick it; it was the only one available.  It was a surreal experience, sitting in a hotel room with no power, and a tropical storm raging outside the window, while we streamed the live news on our phones and watched the eye of the storm pass right over our neighborhood.  We prayed, (a lot!) and took comfort in God’s promises:

        Psalm 46:1-3,  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”

        As we left our house on Saturday afternoon, we honestly did not know what, if anything, we would be returning to.  We tried to trust in God, and at the same time be mentally prepared for the possibility of losing our house and everything in it.  When our neighbor texted us, during the eye of the storm, to let us know that our house was standing, with only minor damage, we wept with relief and thanked God for His protection.  We returned on Monday after the storm to find a big tree down in our yard, some damage to the roof, but overall, our house was fine.


On Tuesday, I went out to Immokalee to check on members of the church, and the Amigo Center’s staff and volunteers. Thanks be to God: no one was hurt.  Yes, they had damage their homes: to porches, siding and screen rooms but everyone was ok.  The next day, Wednesday, Harry Chapin Food Bank sent a truck to Immokalee with water and MREs.  After almost 200 families were served, Collier County workers arrived with a truck filled with water and more food.  By the end of Saturday, one week after the storm, about 1,000 families were given food or a hot meal through the Red Cross in our parking lot.  Time and time again, people told us that they had damage to their homes or yards, but invariably, they were thankful that they were safe; that their lives had been spared.


The next week, the volunteers worked every day, serving over 300 families per day. In addition, 1,000 hot meals were served through Friday. I received an almost constant stream of phone calls and text messages from all over the country, offering donations of food, clothing and supplies.  Once again, God was at work through many people, making His love and grace known.   On Sunday after worship, a family arrived with a van filled with clothing, food, and personal hygiene supplies. A short time later, a semi arrived from

Michigan, filled with donated water and diapers.  With the help of a forklift, (and driver), graciously loaned to us by Grass Roots Kitchen, pallet after pallet was unloaded from the semi trailer and dropped in the parking lot. Then came the work of transferring everything into the Amigos Center lobby.  In case you’re wondering, a pallet of bottled water is HEAVY, even with the help of a pallet jack!  Thanks to the help of many volunteers who were willing to do a fair amount of heavy lifting, we were able to move all of the donated goods into the Center.


Our volunteers have worked hard, organizing the donated supplies and helping with distribution to hundreds of people. We are continuing twice weekly food distributions throughout the month of October. However, we are also focusing on church members and community members who have had severe damage to their homes; many have been deemed uninhabitable, and others have significant damage to the structure or contents.  Some homes sustained flood damage, and others had water damage to the interior and contents because of roof leaks or broken windows.  I have been working on identifying needs and locating assistance for these families.


        As I look back over the past month, I am humbled and awed by the many demonstrations of God’s grace and power.  Of course, there is the obvious; the storm itself, an awesome and terrible display of God’s power in nature.  God’s providence has been shown in abundance, before, during and after the storm, in answered prayers, in neighbors helping neighbors, and in the generosity shown by so many people.  God truly is good, and His power is made perfect in weakness as He says.  We were all “weak” in the days after the storm; no electricity, limited or no cell service, no internet, wondering how we were going to ever get our lives back to normal. But time and time again, God provides.  Thanks be to God!

Love does funny things. It recently brought a young Venezuelan,a recent graduate of Concordia Seminary, Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Fort Myers, FL. Rev. Maita has come to marry Ruth Pollex, a teacher at St. Michael’s Lutheran School. They met while both were serving as missionaries in the Dominican Republic. Their immediate plans are to live in the Fort Myers area where Rev. Maita hopes to find a place to serve God as a Lutheran pastor. It just so happens that Amigos en Cristo is looking to bolster our pastoral staff with a Spanish speaking pastor who can help with our Hispanic mission churches in Bonita Springs, Immokalee and other future sites. Pray that God’s will be done. And stay tuned to find out what happens next.

By Jim Pennington CDE, LCMS Foundation – Gift Planning Counselor

As of this writing, Congress has not decided whether to renew the charitable IRA rollover, or qualified charitable distribution (QCD), for tax year 2014. Since 2006, many donors age 70 ½ or older have used this option to exclude from taxable income qualifying charitable gifts transferred directly from their IRA to charity, including gifts to ministry. If Congress follows what has become its usual pattern, it will pass an extension in December that will apply through 2015 and be retroactive to January 1, 2014.



Jim Pennington

If you are considering a gift from your IRA for 2014 and are 70 ½ or older (on the date of the gift) and itemize your tax deductions, you may want to go ahead and make the gift up to the amount of your RMD (required minimum distribution). If Congress passes the extension and makes it retroactive, you will be able to treat the contribution as a rollover gift. If Congress does not pass the extension or make it retroactive, you will still be eligible to deduct the gift as an itemized deduction.

 If you do not itemize or if you are making gifts in excess of your RMD, you may want to wait and see what Congress will do. If Congress does not pass an extension, you may want to make the gift from other resources. Of course you should always consult your tax advisor before making any contributions.

 For more information or help answering questions you may have about making a gift with lasting impact, contact Jim Pennington, LCMS Foundation – Gift Planning Counselor.




Immokalee English Church

Under the leadership of Vicar Karl Glander our English language ministry in Immokalee continues to develop.  Every Wednesday night Vicar Karl meets with a growing group of young people for food, Bible study and friendship.  While these young adults are fluent in the native language of their parents, they feel more at ease speaking in English.  This has created a wonderful niche for discipleship.

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Immokalee Hispanic Church

Our Hispanic ministry in Immokalee was greatly enriched by receiving Danuel Morford into membership through affirmation of faith.  Before moving to Immokalee, Dan spent many years working as an accountant as a Peace Corps volunteer in Latin America.  He now volunteers to tutor our Amigos Center English language students.



Immokalee Haitian Church

Bethlehem Haitian Church – LCMS plans to extend a divine call to Vicar Saint Luc Charelus to serve on their pastoral staff together with Rev. Andre Mezilus.  Saint Luc is a student with the Ethnic Immigrant Institute of Theology at Concordia Seminary.  God willing, he will finish his theological studies by the summer of 2015.

Concordia Seminary 999999


Bonita Springs Hispanic Church

During 2014 we baptized two children and one adult and received two adults into membership.  The expansion of our music ministry has been a highlight.  Visit our website to hear a sample.  We hope to prepare a gift CD of their music during 2015.

Natalie, Eduardo, Isabella Restrepo, Zuly Hervias (2)  20141130_125303

On May 4th, 2014 was the induction service for two vicars for our Immokalee ministry. Vicar Saint Luc Charelus will finish his theological studies next year; Vicar Karl Glander is just beginning his 4-year program of study. Both are enrolled in distance education programs of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO and work under the direction of local mentors and supervisors. Upon satisfactory completion they will receive a Theological Diploma which makes them eligible for a divine call to the pastoral ministry of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Upon graduation, we expect Saint Luc to join our pastoral ministry team at Bethlehem Haitian Church – LCMS. Karl will head up our English language mission in Immokalee.







Amigos en Cristo

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