Mission Waco has been a cornerstone of the Waco community for decades. Even before the official creation of Mission Waco, founders Jimmy and Janet Dorrell worked hard to make a difference in the impoverished neighborhood of North Waco.
After originally meeting while working at the Waco State Home when Janet was a Baylor student, the Dorrells found their way back to Waco in 1978. They purchased a large, dilapidated house in North Waco with the express purpose of living among those they planned to serve. They began slowly fixing up the home and getting to know those in the community. Beyond the weekly kid and teen clubs they set up, the couple also worked closely with the Campfire organization and Reconcilers Fellowship of Waco.
The Dorrells’ initial incursion into Waco outreach lasted only a year, as they moved to Houston in 1979 for a few years so Jimmy could study under a local pastor experimenting with the idea of cell churches, or smaller home churches, to help spread the gospel throughout large communities. From there they traveled with their firstborn around the world for three months on an exposure trip, learning about poverty and struggle around the world. Upon their return to the United States, as Janet was pregnant with the couple’s second child, they moved back into their home in North Waco with a deeper understanding of poverty and all the more eager to serve those around them. They continued their grassroots community outreach and urban missions for a little less than a decade.
It was not until 1991 that the Dorrells saw the need to form an official nonprofit to support and expand their neighborhood ministry, and they founded Cross Culture Experiences Inc (CCE). The initial intent of this organization was to get middle-class Americans out of their comfort zone and plugged into service and mission work. This goal birthed some of the Dorrells’ first national and international ventures, Poverty Simulation, and “exposure trips.” Poverty Simulation is designed to give people a taste of what it is like to be homeless. Participants sleep in the backyard of a Mission Waco building, find food around town with no money, and much more. The exposure trips were designed to give Americans a window into poverty beyond what they could see in their own towns, true third-world poverty. The Dorrells also continued their neighborhood ministry and Bible clubs while launching CCE. That same year, the Christian Missions Concerns (CMC) Foundation saw the good work the Dorrells were doing in Waco and beyond and decided to fund a new program under the Dorrells’ leadership, Mission Waco. The new program exploded and was quickly brought under the CCE umbrella with continued support by the CMC. Every year since then the Dorrells have launched new projects and learned how to meet the needs of the Waco community in diverse ways.
In the next couple years, Mission Waco made some big moves in the neighborhood. First, the Dorrells purchased an old carpet store next to their home and made it the home base for Poverty Simulation. But the most significant purchase came when they bought the entire shopping center on North Fifteenth Street and Colcord Avenue (on map below). The shopping center was notoriously seedy, housing four low-end bars and a pornographic theater, the Capri. Mission Waco completely renovated the center and began using it for job training, GED. classes, and more. The Dorrells also turned the Capri into a children’s theater and meeting place for the community. Named Jubilee Center, it runs programs like Urban Expression and Prelude Gloria, visual arts and classical music programs for kids. The center even houses a twenty-eight-foot rock climbing wall as well. The building next to the shopping center then became the Youth Center and is a hangout for high-risk and at-risk youth to play video games, pool, and foosball; lift weights; and even hop into the later-added recording studio and let their voice be heard. The initial renovations earned Mission Waco the 1994 “Audrey Nelson Community Development” award, one of five awarded each year nationally. In the coming decade the center would become home to the main offices of Mission Waco and the Mission Waco World Cup Café and Fair Trade Market. The café and market not only support artisans around the world through fair trade and train locals in food service, they bring middle- and upper-class people into the area and spread awareness of poverty in Waco. By 2000 the Dorrells also founded the Waco Community Development Corporation to bring similar economic development to the area and help provide affordable housing like the Mission Waco-owned Ark Apartments.
The mid-nineties also saw the arrival of Church Under the Bridge and Friday Morning Breakfast. It all started as a Bible study with five homeless men, and Jimmy would also take these men to breakfast on Friday morning. The Bible study grew quickly, as those who were not comfortable within the walls of a church felt accepted in this group of peers. It eventually grew so large that Mission Waco named the gathering Church Under the Bridge, and it met every Sunday morning under the I-35 overpass. When the group grew too large for Jimmy to accommodate for breakfast, First Lutheran Church stepped in and started the official Friday Morning Breakfast gathering at their church, run by volunteers. Church Under the Bridge too became its own entity separate from Mission Waco and now boasts a congregation of three hundred people. This work with the homeless and impoverished shed light on the problems of drugs and alcohol addictions among the homeless population and led to the founding of Mission Waco’s Manna House, an alcohol and drug recovery home, and the Lighthouse, a transition home for those coming out of Manna House. Mission Waco would later found a homeless shelter of its own, My Brother’s Keeper, but not until a decade later in 2004.
Another monumental addition for Mission Waco came in 2005 with the opening of the Meyer Center for Urban Ministries. Mission Waco calls the Meyer Center its “one-stop-shop for the poor and marginalized.” Funded by the Paul and Jane Meyer Family Foundation, this center in downtown offers showers, laundry, clothing vouchers and shelter vouchers, along with a computer lab, job training, and job search aid. The clothing and shelter vouchers can be redeemed at My Brother’s Keeper and Mission Waco’s voucher center, where people can exchange vouchers for free clothes. Mission Waco also runs The Clothesline, selling donated clothes to support other Mission Waco ventures, and it shares a building with the voucher center. In 2011 the Meyer Center also added mental health and relapse prevention services with the help of the Baylor University psychology department. The Meyer Center would later open a chapel for weddings and events in 2013 to help pay for its other services.
In 2012, Mission Waco adopted the name Mission Waco Mission World to better reflect the organization’s work. On top of the many programs Mission Waco operates in the local community, it also still works with partners in Haiti, Mexico City, and India. Mission Waco also continues to take groups to these locations on exposure trips to serve the local populations.
A very important addition to Mission Waco’s ventures was the Jubilee Food Market in 2016. Operating within a known “food desert,” meaning no grocery store existed within walking distance of the neighborhood, Mission Waco wanted to provide low-income families with fresh and healthy foods. Produce is grown behind the store as part of the Urban R.E.A.P. program, allowing the store to sell fresh vegetables at a low price.
In 2018, Jimmy Dorrell passed the executive director position on to John Calaway, but Jimmy remains president. Mission Waco has undeniably changed the face of the city and helped thousands of its residents. Its facets and programs extend beyond those mentioned here, and it continues to provide every service possible to break the cycles of poverty and empower those in need.