In 1978, Jimmy and Janet Dorrell bought a deteriorating house in the middle of a blighted neighborhood in North Waco. Based on their understanding of incarnational ministry, they sensed their vocational call was to live among the poor and help bring “good news” through relationships and empowerment opportunities. The couple began offering children’s and teen clubs each week in their home, meeting neighbors, and providing assistance to those struggling in the community.
The Dorrells left for a short time (1979-1982) to work in a church in Houston, followed by a exposure trip around the world, an experience which opened their eyes to the enormous needs of the hungry, the poor, the unevangelized and the struggling needs of so many around the globe. Convicted they should return to Waco, a community rich in possibilites with so many Christian students at Baylor and local churches, yet also the home of large numbers caught in the throes of poverty, they returned to their aging home to more seriously develop relationship-based ministries.
In 1991, after years of an informal neighborhood ministry, the Dorrells created “Cross Culture Experiences,Inc.” a non-profit Christian organization designed to help students leave the comfort of their own cultural experiences and come to understand and love the poor and marginalized. A “poverty simulation,” out-of-country “exposure trips,” and a few neighborhood Bible clubs filled the their time since the couple were bi-vocational. Within the year, a Christian foundation (Christian Mission Concerns, established by Paul and Katie Piper) chose to fund a $75,000 start up program called “Mission Waco” to be led by Jimmy and Janet. Within the year, the ministry exceeded expectations and CMC relocated oversight to Cross Culture Experiences. The foundation has continued to help support the ministry from its initiation.
Mission Waco’s program are built around three goals: 1) empowerment through relationship-based, holistic programs among the poor and marginalized, 2) mobilizing middle-class Christians toward “hands-on” involvement, and 3) addressing systemic issues which dis-empower the poor. As volunteers, interns, and donations increased, and as local gaps were identified, additional programs were added to the existing children and teen programs. A board of twenty Christian men and women from different churches oversee the direction.
In 1993, Mission Waco purchased and renovated the carpet store next door to the Dorrell’s home for their program center and poverty simulation site. In 1994, a more challenging building opportunity came with the purchase of an old bar and the acquisition of an abandoned shopping center at the corner of N. 15th Street and Colcord Ave. The corner had once been a thriving location for the neighborhood with a grocery store, beauty salons, and the Texas Theater. But as people of minority races and lower incomes moved in, the local businesses, residents and some faith communities moved out to the west side of Waco and other suburbs. Negative businesses including street drugs and prostitution replaced the formerly thriving area. There were now four bars and a porno theater (“The Capri”) spreading darkness in the area. Mission Waco immediately gutted the six buildings and began renovating them as funds and volunteers allowed. When completed, “Jubilee Center” was opened to offer a variety of empowerment programs for the community, a computer lab, job training, G.E.D. classes, and a 200 seat theater for dance, drama, neighborhood meetings, and a 28 foot climbing wall. Mission Waco won one of five national “Audrey Nelson Community Development” Awards for the restoration and positive impact of the facility. The adjacent building, also a former bar, became known as “Alpha Quest” for children and youth programs.
An outreach Bible study established in 1992 for five homeless men who slept under the Interstate 35 underpass near Baylor continued to grow. Within a few years, the group had grown to include significant numbers of the poor, marginalized, and unchurched and “Church Under the Bridge” was established. Though initially connected for a few years, Mission Waco separated the church away from the non-profit to allow it to grow as its own incorporation. The church still meets under the same interstate bridge and runs around 300 persons each week. Mission Waco has continued its “Friday Morning Breakfast” with these folks at First Lutheran’s facility since 1993.
Due to growing numbers of homeless people who had no safe place to sleep, Dorrell gathered four other pastors together in 1994 to create Compassion Ministries as another separate non-profit for homeless women, children, and families. However, it was not until 2004 that Mission Waco chose to establish their own chronic homeless shelter, called “My Brother’s Keeper.” Other ministries including Manna House, a ten bed residential alcohol/drug recovery home, were established in 1995 by Jason Pittman of Mission Waco, to target very low income persons, including the homeless who could not access other treatment programs. A transition house “The Lighthouse” for those completing the program was established on North 15th Street.
Founded by Dr. John Perkins and Dr. Wayne Gordon, CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) became an early source for Mission Waco’s mentoring and encouragement. Through national conferences and workshops, each year Mission Waco learned more about urban ministries and Christian development in cities around the nation. Practitioners from all over the nation provided guidance with each new step.
In 1997, Christian Mission Concerns donated an 18-unit apartment complex on Washington Ave. These units were completely remodeled and they offer The Ark Apartments with mixed income Christians living in a program-based living center with spiritual mentoring and accountability.
The youth program thrived in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s with some grant funding. Knowledge Knights, step dancing, bible study small groups, field trips, summer camp in Colorado. The Wellspring Scholarship continues to provide small scholarships to students from our programs who want to go to college — and begins introducing the steps to college earlier in the youth program. Freak Scene Cafe and Jubilee Theater were popular hangout spots for the alternative music crowd in Waco.
Women’s Group met for over 10 years on a mostly weekly basis to provide a place of service and love between diverse women of Waco. So much laughter and so many tears shared as they met for bible study, field trips, creative activities.
In 1999, the decision was made for Church Under the Bridge to become a separate entity from Mission Waco, recognizing that it was no longer a simple bible study, but a full-functioning church. Each September — usually the 3rd Sunday — CUB and Mission Waco continue to celebrate together with Mission Waco’s “Walk for the Homeless” ending at CUB worship and anniversary service under I-35. Urban Institute was created to offer a 9-month educational/experiential internship in urban ministry (this program ran from 1999-2003). Interns served/studied for 7 months here in Waco, went on a Mission Exposure trip to Mexico City, and then spent 2 months in a major U.S. city.
In 2000, Mission Waco helped establish Waco Community Development Corporation as a separate 501c3 non-profit. The purpose of the CDC is safe and affordable housing for both the poor and to attract and encourage middle-class Christians to return to the area. Mike Stone was hired as executive director in 2001. The organization also seeks to help bring new economic development to the area.
The main offices were expanded and moved to the Jubilee Center in 2001. This move also freed up space at our original building to expand the social services for the homeless. Manna House had closed in 2000 for renovations and restructuring. The new Manna House program, developed by Pam Stelk, recovery director, opened in August 2001.
In 2002, through the generosity of the Meyer Foundation, Mission Waco was given a building for our children’s program. The ROCK (Renewing Our Children’s Knowledge) was born! “The Other Side of Waco” tour was added in 2002 to offer people a chance to learn and see issues related to poverty and redevelopment in north, east, and downtown Waco (this 1.5 hour driving tour continues to be a great entry point to Mission Waco and an educational tool for many groups from churches, universities/colleges, schools, organizations).
Our retail space at 1817 Franklin had been operated as The Storehouse (a mixture of used building supplies and perpetual garage sale) for several years until 2001. It was renovated in 2003 as The Clothesline, a stylish boutique selling women’s clothing (provided by donations from individuals and also from some area retailers). Profits from The Clothesline help offset the cost of our Manna House program. The Voucher Center was relocated to the back of the warehouse area, and that space is used to distribute clothing to men, women, children.
My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) shelter for emergency housing for chronically homeless adult men and women opened in Dec 2004, with transitional housing (partially funded through grant from Housing and Urban Development) added in March 2006. In January 2005, Mission Waco opened the “Meyer Center for Urban Ministries,” a former church in downtown Waco that provides assistance and social services for the poor. Through the generosity of the Paul and Jane Meyer Family Foundation, the building was purchased to help create a “one-stop shop” for the poor and marginalized in the community. Showers, laundry, clothing vouchers, and shelter vouchers are provided each day. This is also the location for M-Powerment program (computer lab, job readiness, job search) classes.
In 2005, the Mission Waco Health Clinic began two nights per week, serving the poor with acute care by volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses, chiropractors, orthopedic doctors, etc. Later the local Family Health Center also opened a full-time day-time clinic in that space (and renovated the space into a beautiful clinic!). House of Dignity, women’s residential rehab, also opened in Fall 2005, but later closed in 2007 due to lack of funds. The HOD property was used for intern housing for several years, and became Men’s Permanent Housing program in 2010 — this is a boarding house style atmosphere for single adult men.
On January 9, 2006, World Cup Cafe, the 42-seat corner restaurant at Jubilee Center (1321 N. 15th at Colcord), opened with specialty coffees and pastries. On January 31st, breakfast and lunch became the norm. On February 14th, the Cafe held its official Grand Opening. The World Cup Café and Fair Trade Market not only offers coffees and fair trade gift items from around the world, but also is a gathering place in the community and provides some training in the food service industry.
The youth program was redesigned as high-risk youth and at-risk youth programs. The youth center(formerly “Alpha Quest”) got a well-deserved make over in 2007 to become a great hangout place for teens — with video games, pool, foosball, computers/library, weights. A recording studio was added to reach the older students who have a lot to say but often don’t feel like they have an outlet. Mentoring in the alternative school and lock-up facilities provide opportunity to connect with teens/young adults, including some involved with gang activity.
In 2010, Galveston Urban Ministries was launched (through a start-up grant by Christian Mission Concerns) by Mission Waco to serve among the poor in Galveston TX. Josh and Danielle Dorrell lead GUM, and GUM is now a separate 501c3 with a local board of directors in Galveston. Also in 2010, the Jubilee Theater renovations were completed, and an exciting period of live plays, special performances and theater camp became the norm for our neighborhood. The Fair Trade Market was expanded and the cafe and theater were connected. The earthquake in Haiti brought world-wide attention to the island. Many donors chose to give to us because of our established relationships in Haiti, and as a result the work in Haiti increased. Seth and Sarah Dorrell and daughter Finley moved in 2011 to Ferrier to lead our partnerships there, though they returned a few months later due to Seth’s health.
Mental Health services were added in 2011 at the Meyer Center through a partnership with Baylor’s psychology department. Other volunteer counselors also help at the Meyer Center. The “12:2” relapse prevention group began meeting weekly at Meyer Center. As part of our growing commitment to holistic ministry, Urban Expressions visual arts studio launched at the Jubilee Center to offer art instruction to children, youth and adults. Prelude Gloria, a classical music instruction program that also includes a service component, came under the umbrella of Mission Waco for 2011-2012.
Celebrating twenty years of ministry in 2012, the board of directors adopted a name change to Mission Waco, Mission World, Inc. to better reflect the purpose of the organization. Mission World includes all the work with our national partners in Haiti, Mexico City and India. Two new programs began in 2012: Six-Eight Technologies (name changed to J.A.M.E.S in 2014 for Justice and Mercy Engineering Society), to connect engineers with solving practical needs in third world countries. Legal Services Program offers legal assistance clinics and other help to those facing various needs like landlord/tenant or immigration issues. The Fair Trade Market was expanded again in 2012, allowing more display space for an increasing variety of gift items, but also allowing more seating for the cafe and special events. The annual School Supplies Store and Christmas Toy Store were reorganized to coincide with Parent Resource Nights, so that low-income parents can be more aware of resources for their families as well as getting 80% discount on school supplies. The “Daniel Butler Memorial Fund” was created by Daniel’s family and friends in memory of his love for and talent in visual arts, and the fund is used to enhance programming in our Urban Expressions art program.
The “Seth Dorrell Memorial Fund” was created in 2013 by Seth’s family and friends in memory of his commitment to economic development and the poorest areas of the world, to enhance the work of Mission World in areas of Haiti, Mexico and India. In just 9 months, we lost Seth as well as Jackson Nelson (one of our long-time partners in Ferrier), and Tony Villafana (one of the original overnight monitors of MBK). The “Chapel @ Meyer Center” renovations were completed to better market the rental space for weddings and other events, to help offset some of the building expenses at Meyer Center. A new parking lot was added along Colcord to serve the World Cup Cafe and Fair Trade Market and Jubilee Theater customers.
Texas Christian Community Development Network was created as a separate 501c3 by Jimmy and other like-minded CCD leaders to bring healing and hope to disadvantaged communities, neighborhoods and residents of the Lone Star State by connecting, educating, training and advocating for the poor and marginalized in Texas. The No Need Among You annual conference is a highlight for many churches and non-profits in Texas, and is a key training/inspirational event for MWMW program directors, board members, volunteers who are able to attend.
The Ark Apartments courtyard got a face lift with new patio and playground. Our youth job training program took a new twist in the summer 2014 to include “World Bowl” food truck (rented for the summer) in the new parking lot behind World Cup Cafe — offering a basic chicken and rice base plus choice of sauces representing Haitian, Indian and Mexican cuisine. James Wilson passed away in early 2014 – he was an inspirational man — a graduate of MBK and Manna House who worked full-time elsewhere but continued to get up very early to cook breakfast 5 days/wk for MBK residents, as well as serving as manager of our Men’s Housing Program.
In 2015 a new deck behind the youth center was added by a local eagle scout project. We purchased a food truck that was renovated and called “Urban Edibles“, with plans to build on what took place last summer. Staff members from the Meyer Center began working with other citizens to encourage businesses to adopt “fair chance hiring policies” to improve job opportunities for people with a felon on their criminal record. The “Jerry Johnston Creative Arts Memorial Fund” was created by Jerry’s family and friends in memory of his commitment to the arts and people in need — and will be used to assist low-income children, youth and adults to have access to art, dance, and music lessons as well as field trips and attending performances. The old Safeway grocery building was purchased in August 2015 — it has long been a site for some variation of convenience store and one-liner games — but is a key piece of redeveloping the corner of N. 15th & Colcord. The Dwyer Group company led fundraising for the “Light Up Ferrier” project in Ferrier, Haiti — providing a small solar-powered LED light panel to each of 800 homes. Each family who received a light had participated in community service projects led by people in the village. Many women in the families commented on how they will no longer have to use smoky kerosene lamps to provide light at night — which improves lung health and safety for their family members. We were awarded a grant for providing Youth Job Readiness and Placement.
In 2016 plans were firmed up for remodeling the old grocery building into Jubilee Food Market, to address the reality of our neighborhood being a “food desert” with lack of fresh foods and affordable groceries for purchase. “O.A.S.I.S shares” were available for $25 each for people to invest in the new store, and federal and local grant applications turned in — with hopes that enough funds could be raised. In the spring our theater program middle schoolers won first place in an Improv theater competition! It was their first competition ever, and with 30 other teams. Jubilee Park was blessed with a new half-court basketball court which is used consistently by programs. By the time of the Jubilee Food Market grand opening on Dec 1, 2016, 362 donors had given cash $653,133 and in-kind $255,329 donations totaling $878,462! We are humbled by the response, but not surprised as we watched God open door after door. The parking lot was full for the ribbon cutting, which included Brook Avenue Elementary School choir and lots of neighbors.
2017 started off with the ground breaking for Urban R.E.A.P. (renewable energy and agriculture project) next door to Jubilee Food Market. Green Mountain Energy’s “Sun Club” provided a $234,000 grant for this project, and funds will also be added from donors and the Seth Dorrell Memorial Fund (economic development). Plans for expanding the R.O.C.K. children’s center are just about finished and that project will start soon.
Annual fundraisers include our banquet (February), Style Show (April or May), Champions of Service Breakfast (August or September) and Golf Tournament (Sept or October). Race ONE 5k and Fun Run started in 2012 and continues to bring the diversity of the city together for a fun event in our neighborhood.
In 2016 we had 25-30 full-time staff members and about 35 more part-time staff members. In 2015 over 1,718 volunteers served over 14,760 hours across ALL program areas. In addition, 1,488 people and 9,472 hours were given by groups coming to Mission Waco from Waco and across the nation.
Through its entire history, Mission Waco staff and volunteers have worked hard to balance “hands-on” relationships with the poor, local churches, and the community. The call to bring good news to the poor has been a driving force since its first day. And the desire to create a biblical base for empowering compassion is still at its core. God has birthed, blessed and sustained this venture through the years! Thanks be to God.