Feb. 6—Once while Miguel Godoy was preaching, a 3- or 4-year-old girl came up to the front of the room.

She wanted a cookie, crackers, a drink or something, recalled Bonnie Lacy. Lacy, who has been attending Godoy's church for around 10 years, watched as he knelt and asked her what she needed. He helped her find what she needed.

"He's got such a huge heart," Lacy said.

Lacy has been the recipient of his generous spirit over the years. The Osceola resident doesn't speak Spanish, but when she attends Centro Misionero De Cristo Para Las Naciones, Godoy gives his sermons in two languages.

"Their love for me has healed me of a lot of stuff," she said.

Another friend, Elmer Florian, offered a similar story. The two met at church.

"He saw a woman with her son... carrying grocery bags. (Godoy) stopped," Florian said, as translated from Spanish, adding Godoy told the woman he would escort her to her house. "The woman told him she didn't have a house, but she was living in a motel."

Godoy brought her back to where she was living, he said.

"He asked her what she needed and she said money," Florian said. "He helped her economically, so she could buy food."

Giving money like that is just not something most people want to do, he said.

For Godoy himself, everything he does is all "to God's glory."

Coming to America

Godoy was born in El Salvador in 1970. His parents brought him from Santa Ana, El Salvador, to the United States when he was 9-years-old because of the situation in their country. In 1979, there was a coup d'état in the country and a civil war started around that time.

"I grew up in L.A.," Godoy said.

He had grown up attending church in El Salvador, and his grandfather on his mother's side was a pastor.

When he arrived in Los Angeles, not knowing the language, he found a Presbyterian church right next to his house.

"(To) practice English, I went to church," Godoy added.

But growing up in California brought its fair share of tough times.

"There (are) a lot of harsh situations, you know, with gangs and all that," Godoy said. "You're exposed to that every day. And you know, the helicopters and the police and all that."

He wondered if Los Angeles was really where he wanted to stay.

The path from California to Nebraska started when Godoy was 20.

"I gave my life to the Lord," he said.

Nothing necessarily happened to push him that way, but Godoy did get married to his wife, Elsa.

As a teenager, Godoy said he did things he shouldn't have.

"I knew that, you know, that type of lifestyle wasn't the lifestyle that God wanted for me," he said. "I knew that the commitment of marriage without God is even harder."

On the West Coast, Godoy worked with a ministry in California on the worship team and as a youth leader. They asked if he was willing to move to Columbus, Nebraska. He didn't know where it was, but he and his wife Elsa came straight over in April 2000.

Active within the community

Once he moved to Columbus, Godoy took over as pastor at Dios es amor church from 2000 to 2004. Then, that church closed.

"I just stayed in Columbus," Godoy added. "But, still I knew that I had a calling from God."

The couple stayed and attended Highland Park Evangelical Church for about five years. After that, he said, he was called into the ministry.

They started Centro Misionero De Cristo Para Las Naciones, 2700 33rd Ave. in Columbus, in December 2009.

"We started it in the basement of my house with one family," Godoy noted. "So now, 11 years later, I think we've been doing (well) by the grace of God. We're still growing and hoping to grow even more."

Godoy has touched the lives of many through the church, including Lacy's.

"(He is) passionate, compassionate, loves the Lord above everything else, and wants to serve Him," Lacy noted. "(He's a) man of integrity. He and Elsa, his wife, are an amazing team and they've given up a lot to do what they're doing."

Through his work, Godoy fulfills the historical role of a pastor in his ability to counsel the community. People come to him with problems and he is able to help, Florian said, adding that even some residents who aren't members of the church come for his advice.

"(He) is a really good person," Florian said.

Beyond the church, Godoy is also active within the community.

Centro Misionero De Cristo Para Las Naciones runs a food pantry 10 months out of the year. Godoy served as an East-Central District Health Department board member until recently. He has gone on mission trips, worked as an interpreter for Columbus Community Hospital and just recently started with Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce's Engaging Diversity Committee.

Godoy also serves on the board of Columbus United Federal Credit Union, which he noted is a financial institution that has helped minorities and newcomers to Columbus.

"That makes a lot of difference," he said.

When it comes to the experience of non-English speakers, Godoy noted more can be done.

"There's been improvement but I think there's a lot of growth to do," he said. "There's... Centro Hispano and then there's the diversity committee ... There's still a lot of work to be done."

Residents who don't speak English need to trust and take advantage of all the available programs, Godoy added. Plus, they need to be part of the community and be protected and integrated.

"I think that I haven't had a negative impression at all from anyone here in the community since we came," Godoy said, noting he believes he has been accepted. "I think that's the reason why we never left ... I think that this is my home now."

Far from home

For Godoy and the church, a large part of their focus is abroad. The church's name translated in English is Mission Center of Christ for the Nations, which is what he said they are trying to do.

"We're trying to reach the world," he added.

That work has taken him to places like Zambia. Although he went to Africa twice, the second time was during the COVID-19 pandemic so the trip was cut very short.

"My wife and I were part of a trip, a missionary trip to Africa with health care workers here in Columbus, which was awesome," he said. "I'm a medical assistant also by trade. I was able to help out the doctors."

He also traveled to Guatemala, El Salvador and Cuba last year.

"That was eye-opening to be able to see those different countries and also to be able to preach there and teach there," Godoy added. "Especially Cuba, with the way that it is there ... There's a lot of need in every aspect of the word."

In the Columbus community, Godoy filled a need by working with the hospital as an interpreter. Godoy worked there until recently and said it was rewarding.

"But on the other side, (if someone) passed away, you're there to console, you're not just interpreting. You're there to grieve with the families," he said.

Godoy was there to fill the gap that families have.

"I was able to see the bittersweet of everything," he said. "As an interpreter, you learn a lot."

Although part of what drives him is his helping spirit, he also has a clear sense of community.

Community is who we are, he explained. It identifies those who are part of it.

"If I tell you I grew up in L.A., you have a concept of what L.A. is because of what you know, what you've heard," Godoy said.

It should speak of who we are, he noted.

"That's why we need to ... make a difference and strive to grow and make our community better," Godoy said. "It's basically who we are."

Carolyn Komatsoulis is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at carolyn.komatsoulis@lee.net.

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