The path to immigration is filled with hope and promise, but it also can be intimidating and lonely. It’s a dynamic that Pastor Robert Selle encounters constantly as he and his staff work with the many individuals and families who arrive in Southwest Florida from faraway countries.
Fortunately for those newcomers, they have at their disposal the Amigos Center, which Selle started 15 years ago. “We’re here to provide the tools for successful assimilation and an abundant life for immigrants in Southwest Florida as well as into the kingdom of God,” says Selle.
His journey into the ministry and charitable work began in 1983 when he earned his Master of Divinity degree from the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. (The Michigan native, who has a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan Dearborn, previously worked as an engineer.) “I received my calling from God,” says Selle, husband of Donna and father of Laura, Elizabeth and Jessica.
In 1983, the family moved to Venezuela where Selle served as an evangelistic missionary. church. Roughly 14 years later, they relocated to Southwest Florida when he received his divine calling from the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod to establish a Hispanic Lutheran church in Bonita Springs. The Amigos En Christo church and, a few years later, Amigos Center were opened. (He is head pastor of the church and Amigos Center executive director.)
Those initial efforts have blossomed into multifaceted facilities and programs. There is Hope Lutheran Church in Bonita Springs, where Selle delivers the services in Spanish, and Immokalee Lutheran Church, where another pastor conducts the service in Creole for the many Haitian residents.
Amigos Center now has offices in Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Immokalee and Naples, where immigration specialists have helped tens of thousands. Amigos Center has established a formal food and clothing center in Immokalee, and it provides education in literacy, leadership and community involvement. Currently, the adult-language program teaches more than 28 students each week to speak, read and write English. Throughout the past 15 years, Amigos Center has handled more than 60,000 client visits.
Most often, the effort begins with one person, typically a father who arrives alone in Southwest Florida ahead of his family. “[The fathers] come in and try to establish a beach head. They don’t know English,” says Selle. “We help them learn English. We provide worship services. They are very lonely, but here they find fellowship. They’ve come here for opportunities. And they find them.”