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Personalizing Urban Transformation

David Godbout takes a nontraditional approach to evangelizing in urban St. Louis.
In the heart of urban St. Louis, U.S. missionary David P. Godbout and his wife, Sherri, are carrying out what former Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) president Mark A. Hausfeld calls “one of the most missional, intentional works I’ve ever seen in the U.S. as far as focusing on unsaved, unchurched people sharing the gospel through relationships.”

The Godbouts, who work with Church Mobilization, came 14 years ago to the neighborhood 20 blocks south of downtown, where their ministry is shaped by needs they encounter.

“Our method and ministry has been to promote everybody else’s agenda but ours,” says David, 59. “Some have an agenda of enhancing neighborhood kids’ education. How do we help that happen? Some promote young entrepreneurs, Black-owned businesses in a community that has not had a lot of new business endeavors. How do we help them do that? If we can serve enough other people, that’s our road to developing a voice of authority.”

The Godbouts, who were saved as teenagers and discipled at Sheffield Family Center, a large urban church in Kansas City, Missouri, recently bought a 100-plus-year-old movie theater building and refashioned it into a community center. The building, under the nontraditional banner Novation Church, is used to teach art, help children with homework, and host uplifting photography and painting exhibits, as well as concerts by emerging young musicians.

“We open our space to people who have a dream,” Godbout says.

Their area is afflicted by a high murder rate, homelessness, blight, and substance abuse, but Godbout says the more serious problem is a “hopelessness to the extent that people don’t even realize they live lives without hope.”

When he asked one local 17-year-old boy about his dreams and goals, the youth looked at him “like I was talking about nuclear physics,” Godbout says. The boy expressed doubt that he would still be alive in five years.

The Godbouts tackle problems one person at a time.

Recently, Godbout arrived at the ministry center to discover a local man he knew who had been squatting in an abandoned house nearby, overdosing on fentanyl on the sidewalk. Godbout called the local fire department and held the man in his arms so he wouldn’t fall down or put others in danger until help arrived.

The next day, Godbout dedicated the newly reopened chapel at a local hospital, which had been aggressively shut down by a previous, atheistic CEO. Godbout is helping the medical center resurrect its chaplaincy program.

“We have a heart for the urban core because that’s what we came out of,” says Godbout, who led a Masters Commission program prior to coming to St. Louis. “We are engaging a culture that is increasingly hostile to the gospel message. How do we gain a hearing?”

Hausfeld, a former missionary to the Middle East and now the vice president for institutional innovation at Trinity Bible College & Graduate School in Ellendale, North Dakota, says Godbout “intentionally engages people who are totally unchurched.”

“He is constantly engaged in the community to build relationships and be a missional witness to people who would have never darkened the door of a church,” says Hausfeld, 63. “He looks at what the community values and applies himself to that, and therefore they see him as a person of value.”

Hausfeld taught Godbout as a student in a contextualized theology class at AGTS as Godbout earned his Master of Divinity. These days, Hausfeld takes his students to St. Louis to observe the Godbouts’ ministry in action.

“To David, evangelism is a process and not an event,” Hausfeld says.

Godbout says the neighborhood is slowly becoming an epicenter of a young progressive movement, that includes an influx of artists.

“These are wonderful, fantastic, phenomenal people who love the community,” Godbout says. “The thing they’re lacking is a gospel foundation, having their feet anchored in something true.”

Joel Kilpatrick

Joel Kilpatrick is a writer living in Southern California who has authored or ghostwritten dozens of books. Kilpatrick, who served as associate editor of the Pentecostal Evangel in the 1990s, is a credentialed Assemblies of God minister.