Jimmy Dorrell, co-founder, president and executive director of Mission Waco, Mission World has been on our short list for Wacoan of the Year for a while. Is Mission Waco more fantastic in 2016 than in 2015? Should we wait for something wonderful to happen in 2017? What is the reward for being consistently awesome?
We could name him Wacoan of the Decade, but that’s too small. Wacoan of the Decades? Dorrell came to Baylor University in 1968. He and his wife, Janet, bought a dilapidated house in 1978 in the neighborhood around 15th Street and Colcord Avenue, where they still live and minister. But next year will mark Mission Waco’s 25th anniversary. The annual banquet on February 28 will celebrate the occasion. Consider this article the kick-off, the eve before the holiday. Jimmy Dorrell is our 2016 Wacoan of the Year.
“Come and let yourselves be built as living stones into the spiritual temple.”
St. Francis of Assisi, from the movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”
How do we tell the story of Jimmy Dorrell and Mission Waco? The nonprofit has grown stone by stone, from something the Dorrells did on the side to a staff of 29 full-time and 46 part-time employees who administer programs for children, youth, families and adults.
It also has programs that mobilize middle-class Christians to learn and serve among the poor, both in Waco and around the world. In 2015 Mission Waco had 1,700 individual volunteers, plus 56 group volunteers. That translates to more than 3,000 people donating 36,000 hours. And that doesn’t count the interns.
Mission Waco is recognized as a four-star charity on Charity Navigator with an overall rating of 98.21. Charity Navigator has stringent standards, and it does not give out four stars lightly. Its letter to Mission Waco, informing them of their designation, stated,
“Approximately a quarter of the charities we evaluate have received our highest rating, indicating that Mission Waco, Mission World outperforms most other charities in America.”
These statistics are not the kinds of things Jimmy will tell you. Instead, he wants you to know the stories of the people in the neighborhood and under the bridge and around the world.
“It’s like that saying: ‘You say you love the poor, tell me their names,’” he said.
Everything Dorrell does is about hands-on relationships. It’s his entire approach to ministry. So this article revolves around people who have relationships with him.
But please, call him Jimmy.
“Our professor, Jimmy (he lets us call him by his first name), is such a wonderful example of Christian service.” Emmy Edwards, Baylor Admissions blog, October 30, 2013
Jimmy Dorrell is just Jimmy. He doesn’t care about titles or degrees, but he has them (bachelor’s in religion, Baylor University; master’s in divinity, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; master’s in environmental studies, Baylor; doctorate in ministry, Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University). He’s been teaching on and off at Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary since receiving his doctorate in 2001. This semester he taught The Church and Community Ministry as well as Introduction to Witness and Mission. In the spring he will teach Leadership and Social Change. For 22 years he taught a community service class called Poverty in Waco, a class which Janet now teaches. In Jimmy’s spare time he is an adjunct professor with Bakke Graduate University, in Dallas, and B.H. Carroll Theological Institute, in Irving.
But don’t call him Professor Dorrell or Dr. Dorrell or certainly not Reverend, even though he still pastors at Church Under the Bridge.
“Just Jimmy’s fine,” he said.
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Martin Luther King Jr.,
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
When Jimmy came to Waco in 1968 to attend Baylor, he probably did not guess that his destiny lay with this city. Other than brief stints in Fort Worth and Houston and some trips to the poorest parts of the world, he has been here, in the heart of Waco.
Jimmy grew up in Conroe in the 1960s, when both the city and the Baptist church he attended were racially divided. There were even two Little Leagues: one black, one white. He calls himself a “recovering Baptist,” one with a pin for seven years of perfect Sunday school attendance.
“In 1967 a rumor began to spread that blacks were coming to our white church, and the leadership assured us they wouldn’t let that happen,” he said. “Church culture had been embedded in the world.”
Moving to Waco meant Jimmy had to confront his own prejudices. He first became acquainted with people living in poverty at age 19 while serving as youth director for Highland Baptist Church. Rev. Dewey Pinckney, who was pastor of St. Mary’s Baptist Church and head of the McLennan County branch of the NAACP, invited Jimmy to bring the youth group to do vacation Bible school in No Man’s Land, a formerly unincorporated area between Bellmead and Waco. Pinckney has since passed away, and St. Mary’s is located on a street that now bears his name.
“I didn’t know you could have a St. Mary’s that was Baptist. Nothing about my past made that OK,” Jimmy said.
But he came anyway and found poverty that seemed more like something in a developing country than in a midsize city.
“There was a house that was leaning to the left, a tree growing through the front porch. And we figured nobody could possibly live there, so we pushed the door open, and a man screamed. He was completely blind, 76, living alone,” Jimmy recalled. “At 19 years old, it was a life-changer.”
Jimmy kept youth directing and got to know Rev. Cleophus J. LaRue of Toliver Chapel Missionary Baptist Church. Dr. LaRue is now a professor of homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary. Jimmy also worked with Robert Gilbert, the first African-American student to graduate from Baylor (1967) and the first African-American elected to the Waco ISD school board (1976).
“These and other African-American activists were struggling with issues in Waco,” Jimmy said. “That was a wakeup call for me to think, ‘I’m probably seeing through my white eyes.’ It was kind of like a new thing — hearing deeper, thinking.”
Around that time Jimmy started working as a recreation director at what was then the Waco State Home (now Waco Center for Youth). His first day was so hard he almost quit. He barely survived his first week.
“I remember going to Cameron Park on Friday night at the end of a hard week and had a powwow with God to remind him that I have five years as a youth director and seven years perfect attendance in Sunday School, and he was not impressed,” Jimmy said.“I was gonna be a world-changer, and now I’m getting cussed out and stopping fights. I knew the Bible verses, but how do you love kids that can’t love themselves? So those three years transformed me more than anything I’ve ever done.”
When those three years ended, he went to seminary in Fort Worth. He married the young woman from Baylor who he’d been dating, Janet Carol Svejkovsky of Oklahoma City.
And soon he found himself working in another inner city with First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth.
“I’d talk theology in morning; in the afternoon I’d work with kids who were pregnant at 13, domestic violence, crack cocaine.” Jimmy said.
He began to wonder, Where is the church in all this?
“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Letters and Papers from Prison”
“I had a crisis of faith. I was mad at the church,” Jimmy said. This was the time of the counter culture revolting against the Vietnam War and the rise of the Jesus movement, but Jimmy never really was a hippie.
“My mother wouldn’t let me be a hippie, but I have a hippie mindset,” he said.
He and Janet spent three years in Houston with Ralph Neighbour of West Memorial Baptist Church. He was a pioneer in the cell church movement, “a renegade Baptist,” Jimmy says.
He and Janet weren’t sure where they belonged, but they knew one thing: “We knew we were called to the poor,” he said.
So they came home to Waco. In 1978 — before they went to Houston — the Dorrells purchased a 4,000-square-foot house for $12,000, which sounds like a great deal, except that it was still occupied by four people and 40 cats. The rats were so big that the cats were afraid of them. The Dorrells bought it anyway.
They moved into a once-nice neighborhood, which had fallen into crime, drugs and prostitution. There was a dive bar across the street called the Chat & Chew and down the street, the Capri, a pornographic theater.
“We built a basketball court [at the house]. Started doing a neighborhood kids club,” Jimmy said. “We got to know the neighborhood women. They wanted a place that was safe for their kids to play. They wanted a job to take care of themselves. They wanted their husbands to get off crack cocaine. Their issues became Mission Waco’s issues.”
In 1992, Christian Mission Concerns Foundation in Waco gave the Dorrells a $75,000 grant for one year to fund this thing that wasn’t yet an official thing. It included a kids club, a teen club, poverty simulations and exposure trips to see poverty overseas. At the time, Jimmy was a program director at Camp Fire USA Tejas Council, and the grant enabled him to step aside.
“Our model was community development, but we didn’t know what to call it back then. We knew we can’t go down and fix people just because we’re wealthy and white. We came down and built relationships,” Jimmy said. “We believe the people with the problem must be part of the solution to the problem.”
“It’s not come and see; it’s come and learn. It’s not just cognitive, sit behind a desk, but come touch it, come smell it, come feel it, come be here with us. Mission Waco’s done that for decades. They invite people to their community. Come to Haiti. Come to India. Be engaged.”
Josh Dorrell, co-founder of Galveston Urban Ministries, son of Jimmy and Janet
Mission Waco’s approach to solving problems is holistic in nature. It has three goals, and only two address poverty directly. No. 1 is about empowering the poor and marginalized through relationship-based programs. No. 3 focuses on addressing systemic issues of injustice among the poor. No. 2 is about the middle class: “mobilizing middle-class Christians to become more compassionately involved among the poor.”
And Waco is the perfect place for such a ministry. The average poverty rate of an American city is 14.5 percent. Waco’s is more than double that at 29.4 percent, but that only counts individuals. The number is actually higher — 30.9 percent — for families with children. Although recent years have brought economic development to the downtown and riverfront areas, it’s not trickling down to the poorer parts of town.
But in 25 years Mission Waco has made a difference. One of the best people to describe the change is Jimmy’s son Josh Dorrell, co-founder and executive director of Galveston Urban Ministries. Think Mission Waco 20 years ago but near the beach. Mission Waco takes its interns to Galveston Urban Ministries to see how a similar vision is implemented in a different community.
The area of North Waco where most of Mission Waco’s programs are located looks very different than it did when Josh was growing up, playing on the basketball court with his brothers and local kids. The day I interviewed Jimmy, one of those young men, now 38, dropped by to say hi to Jimmy and Janet and get a hug. He’d just gotten out of prison. Josh remembers playing basketball with him.
“When you drive through that neighborhood today, it’s very different. The children who’ve grown up and raised their children in that community. The businesses that stick around. There’s street lights, new sidewalks. There’s a Welcome to the Neighborhood sign,” Josh said. “That’s what community transformation begins to look like.”
Since Jimmy has lived in his house for almost 40 years, he’s seen the transformation up close, from a time when middle-class people wouldn’t even drive through the area to now, when they come on purpose to eat at World Cup Café.
“It’s already happening. I will die with joy that I got to be a part of something bigger than me,” he said. “It’s so fun to live in the same neighborhood for so long. I’m not sure we’re real smart, but we don’t go away. I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
But more can be done, and there’s always a tension in how that growth happens. Jimmy wants to see investment from businesses, but he also does not want the neighborhood to gentrify. Rather, his ideal would be “When the community that’s here is the leaders, the owners of the businesses, when the children flourish,” he said.
“There should be someone who prays and makes sacrifices for those who do not do so.”
St. Clare of Assisi, “Writings of St. Clare of Assisi”
In 1982, the Dorrells left town to see the world’s poverty for themselves. They didn’t consider it a sacrifice.
“I decided I needed to see the church outside of a Western context,” Jimmy said. “Pan Am was flying back then. We got an open ticket. You had to be back in six months; we were gone about four and a half. We didn’t have an itinerary, we stopped where we wanted to. We flew from New York to England. We saw these great cathedrals, but there was nobody there. Then to Paris, France. Christianity had been so powerful in that country, and these kids were atheists. We went to Hong Kong, Korea, Japan. The Eastern wall was up [in Germany], so we smuggled Bibles through at Checkpoint Charlie. Thought we were gonna die!”
After a brief stint at Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri Fellowship International in Switzerland, Jimmy went to India. Janet was pregnant and had a toddler as well, so she stayed at L’Abri. She felt a calling to India and returned there with Jimmy on a separate trip in 1985.
“One of our joys in life was to meet Mother Teresa, go to Kalighat, her home for the dying. We got to work with street children. She invited us into her house. I thought there would be three layers of security but no. She was just as friendly as if we knew her,” Jimmy said. “Her statement is, ‘Go find your own Calcutta.’ I can’t remember if she said that then, but it was implied by the visit. We were tired, overwhelmed. We’d seen brokenness of every kind. We had this question: ‘What are you going to do with your life?’”
They continued to ask the question as they returned home and picked back up the work with what became Mission Waco. They’ve been answering the question ever since.
“Rebuild my church.”
St. Francis of Assisi, “The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi”
Mission Waco isn’t the only ministry Jimmy started in 1992. He also began Church Under the Bridge.
The day I met with Jimmy, October 31, was also Protestant Reformation Day. Think of Church Under the Bridge as Jimmy’s ongoing contribution to the reformation of the church, but instead of nailing 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, he worships every Sunday with 300 people — as the website says, “black, white, brown, rich and poor, educated in the streets and in the university.”
It makes sense that he would be a reformer, since one of his heroes is St. Francis of Assisi. At the ruins of the church of San Damiano in Italy, Francis heard Christ say, “Rebuild my church.” That’s what Jimmy has been doing all these years, even though he never intended to start a church.
If you want to know where Jimmy stands theologically, come Sunday morning at 11 a.m. to the Interstate 35 bridge at Fourth Street. Breakfast is served before the service at 10:30, with the meal provided by a rotating group of churches, some from other cities. It’s fitting that breakfast still be part of Church Under the Bridge because it all started with breakfast on a Friday morning.
“In 1992, we [Janet and Jimmy] were outside having breakfast at Taco Cabana. We saw five homeless people under the bridge. We called the guys over, and I said, ‘You know, I don’t understand homelessness. Let’s let them be the teachers, and we’ll be the students,’” he said.
They bought breakfast that week, then the next. By the third week breakfast cost $200. The men invited the Dorrells to come across the street, under the bridge, and lead a Bible study on Sunday. Church Under the Bridge was born.
“Church renewal was my heart,” Jimmy said. “We say church with the poor, not for the poor.”
In 1999, the church formally separated from Mission Waco, but Jimmy still preaches there most Sundays. And the Friday morning breakfasts continue, although they moved to First Lutheran Church in 1993. On Easter Sunday Church Under the Bridge meets off-site at a camp for baptisms, but otherwise it’s under the bridge, no matter the weather. The homeless people remain Jimmy’s teachers, especially in generosity.
“At Mission Waco we sponsor 276 children in Haiti to go to school. Four are sponsored by the homeless in Waco,” he said. “I said to them one day, ‘I apologize. I’ve acted like you don’t care about other people, and I know you do. Are you interested in sponsoring? You could just put in what you can.’ They said yes. In six months we had enough for one child. Then a second child.”
The other two sponsorships come from residents of the My Brother’s Keeper shelter, who eat breakfast together at Mission Waco’s Meyer Center. The Meyer Center, at 1226 Washington Avenue, is where Mission Waco does its social service work.
Over the years Church Under the Bridge has had to deal with ethical questions, such as, Is it OK to let a prostitute read Scripture for a church service?
Jimmy’s answer: “I’m pretty sure Jesus would have done that. I’m a Pharisee. Jesus got in the face of people like me more than the prostitute.”
“Who’s Jimmy? They kept talking about this Jimmy. I kept hearing his name, and then this guy shows up looking like Santa Claus.”
Charles Benson, associate pastor of Church Under the Bridge
Charles Benson has been the associate pastor of Church Under the Bridge for eight years. He does the weekly pastoral work of outreach and visitation.
He’d been at Toliver Chapel Missionary Baptist Church for about 10 years when one Sunday morning, he made his way to this thing called Church Under the Bridge. He was curious about what ministry opportunities might be available outside the normal church.
“God laid it on my heart: ‘Get up and go see,’” Benson said. He arrived late, and Jimmy was already preaching about black history to a mostly white congregation. “He was so bold about what he was saying. I thought, ‘Who is this guy?’ So I went up and met him that Sunday at the end of the service. When I shook his hand, he asked, ‘Are you a minister?’ How would he know? I was in shorts and a T-shirt.”
Benson said yes, he was a minster, and Jimmy invited him to lunch.
“He’d been praying for about 14 years for someone to come in and help with the church,” Benson said. “I was looking for somebody, and he was praying for somebody.”
Benson says that working with Jimmy has allowed him to grow in ways he never would have if he’d stayed within the black church.
“He gives me the opportunity to be who God created me to be,” Benson said.
“I think he leads a church that Jesus would go to. I think Jesus would be under the bridge with him. And in all of the ways that he’s this great titan and champion for the poor, he’s someone who’d stick his sawed off finger in your nose. He’s just this human that loves to do this work that’s most important to the kingdom.”
Stevie Walker-Webb, Princess Grace Foundation 2015 award-winner for theater, 2050 Fellow New York Theatre Workshop, playwright
One of the things you need to know about Jimmy — he lost the top of his right finger to a paper cutter when he was a youth director. You need to know this because he very well might stick that finger in your face just to tease you. This is something Stevie Walker-Webb remembers about Jimmy from growing up in Mission Waco programs.
“Stevie Walker-Webb’s my hero in life,” Jimmy told an audience at a Texas Energy Aggregation TEA talk on September 7.
Mission Waco began with programs for kids and teens. They’re the bedrock of its work in the neighborhood. It soon became evident that the young people needed more arts education. They weren’t getting it in their schools — those programs were severely underfunded, especially in urban areas. So Mission Waco improvised. Walker-Webb grew up in Mission Waco’s youth programs from the time he was 11 or 12, which means he grew up right along with the arts programming.
“There was this woman, Musiki Glover, she was at Baylor. She’d always been a dancer, and she started a step team,” Walker-Webb said. “She created space for the youth to create.”
The early arts programs met in what Walker-Webb calls a “rinky-dink building” with a small multipurpose space. After snack they would clear away the tables, and those interested in dance would go to one side of the room and those who wanted to do poetry or music went to the other side. He credits people like Glover, Fernando Arroyo, Jeni Harris and Kathy Wise with stirring a love for the arts even though they weren’t trained artists.
“No one was educated in the arts. They were artful people, and they had a heart for the community,” he said.
In high school, at A.J. Moore Academy, Walker-Webb wrote a 10-minute play called “Secrets Under the Surface: Communication of the Underground Railroad” for a history fair project that won third place for group performance at the state competition. Then he went to the University of North Texas and earned a degree in sociology but kept writing and performing. He came back to Mission Waco as the director of the Jubilee Theatre from 2010-2012.
“Jimmy’s like, ‘I’m getting ready to open this community theater in Waco.’ I’m like, ‘No way a theater is going to work on 15th Street. There’s no cultural district here,’” Walker-Webb remembered. “He was crazy, and he was also right. Jubilee [Theatre] became this beacon of culture in a forgotten part of town.”
Jubilee Theatre is located in the space that was a movie theater in the ’30s and later a pornographic theater. Mission Waco cleaned it, upgraded the stage and sound system and added a green room for the performers. The first play Walker-Webb directed there is one he wrote called “We Ain’t the Huxtables.”
“Jimmy believed in me,” Walker-Webb said. “I told him, ‘This is a play that interrogates the church.’ He’s like, ‘Great!’”
Now Walker-Webb lives in New York City, where he recently completed a master’s of fine arts in directing from The New School for Drama.
“I grew up living in public housing. I had a loving family around me, but I also know intimately the trauma of poverty and how it affects your development as a person,” he said. “And now I’m in New York City, making art about that, leading workshops around the world about that. Last Sunday I spent eight hours performing in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, and this is the stuff I do in my free time.”
Walker-Webb is following in the steps of his Mission Waco mentors, creating a safe space for young people to explore and cope and, he adds, “have a moment of joy.”
“Mission Walk continues to give to me,” Walker-Webb said. “Every time I work with kids, whether in South Africa or New York City or Mississippi, no matter where I’m at, I still see myself, but I also get to feel this sense of empowerment. I’ve grown into the kind of mentor that I’ve always had around me. I repay that debt by trying to be a real member of society and impact my community no matter where I am with love and art.”
“He’s a go-getter. He’s very compassionate, especially toward the less fortunate. He has a high regard for them. He loves the Lord and believes his purpose here is to serve the kingdom, and that’s what he’s doing.”
Carlton Willis, program director of Meyer Center
Jimmy believes in empowerment. Mission Waco gives a lot of grace but not a lot of handouts. At the School Supply Store parents receive vouchers for a backpack of school supplies at a reduced cost after attending summer training sessions. At the Christmas Toy Store a family can purchase toys at 80 percent off. Even the homeless shelter, My Brother’s Keeper, has a sliding scale.
“They get three nights free at the shelter, then we charge $2 [per night] for 30 days and then $5 [per night] for the next 30 days. If they can’t pay, we let them do chores until they’re able to pay, but it’s the integrity of earning your keep,” Carlton Willis said. At the end of those 63 days, Mission Waco re-evaluates to see if the individual is making progress.
“Our goal is not to allow you to be in the shelter all the time,” he said.
Willis has been with Mission Waco for 16 years. After receiving a degree from Anderson College in South Carolina, he came to Waco for a job at Texas Workforce Commission. A friend in seminary at Truett, who was volunteering at Mission Waco, got Willis involved. He first worked with the Mpowerment job training program. Its graduates have gone on to employment with Caterpillar, Central Texas Iron Works, Hobbs Bonded Fibers and Tractor Supply Company.
The idea of empowerment is part of everything Mission Waco does.
“This is my take on it,” Willis said. “It’s easy to give somebody something that they want, to rescue people. It’s easy to deal with the immediate need, but that doesn’t do anything for the long-term. The empowerment model is we want to have a long-term, lasting effect on the individual.”
That same model of empowering the people who are being helped extends to all Mission Waco’s programs, even the Christmas Toy Store.
“For example, with the Christmas Toy Store, yes, they’re getting it at a reasonable rate, but it’s teaching them the value of saving money and how to plan for the next year.”In the same way, Jimmy wants supporters of Mission Waco to think beyond writing a check (although checks are fine). He wants you to have breakfast or lunch at World Cup Café. He wants you spend some of your Christmas money at Fair Trade Market. And he wants you to buy groceries at the new Jubilee Food Market. Every time you or I spend money at these Mission Waco business ventures, we help employ people.
“Our goal is to equip people and give them the tools they need to be self-sufficient, to get their own place to live, to hold down a job and take care of their families,” Willis said. “God loves everybody, and so we do too.”
“He’s definitely a visionary that doesn’t take no for an answer, a lot of times. He has a vision and doesn’t get deterred by normal things. He’s like, ‘It’ll work out.’”
Shannon Williams, director of Fair Trade Market
So is it Mission Waco or Mission World? Either/or. Both/and.
“We never had borders around God’s role. His heart breaks for the inner city kid in Waco or the child in Calcutta. Some people want to give here, locally, and that’s fine. Others want to focus on overseas,” Jimmy said. “For us it’s both/and. It doesn’t have to be either/or.”
He wanted Mission World to empower people overseas just as Mission Waco does here. When Fair Trade Market, located in the back of World Cup Café, became part of the Fair Trade Federation, it opened the door to trade with credible wholesalers. The federation pays artisans a living wage, and then part of the sale of their products goes back to Mission Waco.
The fair trade store also works with artisans in Haiti. Jimmy and Janet first went to Ferrier, Haiti, for three and a half months in 1984, through an internship with World Hunger Relief Inc., a nonprofit just up the road in Elm Mott that works to alleviate hunger around the world. The Dorrells have sustained relationships with people in Haiti since that first trip, and they continue to do exposure trips there. Mission Waco gives microloans to Haitian women to start small businesses, and 90 percent of them repay their loans. The store carries some of their handmade art. And when you buy those products, it’s both/and.
“It’s doubly helping. You’re shopping for a dual purpose,” Shannon Williams said. “It fits into our model of who Mission Waco is: Who’s your neighbor, not just in Waco, but around the world?”
Williams has known Jimmy for 14 years — as her professor, her mentor, her boss and her pastor.
“He’s able to see things way ahead of time: ‘North Waco in the ’70s and ’80s is real run down, so I’m gonna get a house there. Oh, the people there need services, so we’ll trust God, and we’re stepping out on faith, and we don’t know what to do, but we’re gonna to do it,’” she said, explaining the way Jimmy thinks.
One of the things Williams loves about Jimmy is how he jokes with people so they will feel accepted. She said that when he meets an older volunteer for the first time, he’ll play around.
“He’ll say to one of them, ‘Did we meet in high school?’ and they’re like 90 years old,” she said. “President or homeless — he’s gonna show you the same love and respect. He’s one of the few genuine people that treats everybody the same, no matter who they are.”
“Jimmy is one of those guys that’s just real easy to get behind. When we heard he needed some help getting across the finish line, we knew we wanted to be a part of it. His character and his dedication to our city really speak for themselves. We are honored to know him and are thankful for his passion and mission in our beautiful town.”
Chip Gaines, co-star of “Fixer Upper,” co-owner of Magnolia, co-Wacoan of the Year 2014
Beginning on page 61, we have an entire story on Jubilee Market, Mission Waco’s new grocery store. The Gaineses supported the market by donating the proceeds of the auction of the Elite Café’s contents. But Jubilee Market is bringing in new supporters as well, whether they are new to Waco or just new to Mission Waco.
Darrell Wickert, manager of Jubilee Market, had lived in Waco for 29 years and didn’t realize how big Mission Waco was or how well-known Jimmy is.
“Jimmy’s a charismatic person. I don’t think he’s ever met a stranger. He’s friends with, like, everybody,” he said. “They’ll be walking by and waving at him — they want a hug. Or they drive by and slow down in the middle of the street, honk their horn and wave.”
Wickert said a lot of new donors have come alongside Mission Waco to help fund the store.
“Everybody wants to give to Jimmy,” he said.
One of those new people is Lesley Myrick, interior designer and Wacoan columnist. She designed the exterior of the store. A professor who lives in the neighborhood and knows Myrick’s husband reached out to her.
“I do residential interior design, so to be asked to do the exterior of the grocery store was out of my wheelhouse but a fun, creative challenge,” Myrick said. “This was an opportunity to have even more fun with color and pattern and design. In that neighborhood there are so many buildings painted bright colors. [The store design] makes sense with its surroundings, but it’s unique at the same time.”
She appreciates Jimmy’s directness.
“Oh my gosh, that man is so warm and wonderful!” Myrick said. “He doesn’t waste time. He’s like, ‘Great, let’s do this!’ And I’m like, ‘You’ve got it, sir!’”
“If you’ve met Jimmy, he’s the most down-to-earth guy. I’m not surprised he’d do well with people who are shunned by society.”
Noel Castellanos, CEO of Christian Community Development Association
Jimmy’s work at Mission Waco has already expanded beyond Waco to connect with other people and ministries who share a common vision. About 15 to 20 years ago (neither side remembers the exact date), Jimmy learned about a group called Christian Community Development Association, or CCDA, a national network of churches, individuals and nonprofit urban ministries started in 1989 by Dr. John Perkins. Jimmy had a conference call with Perkins and Wayne Gordon, a pastor in Chicago, to learn more.
“Somebody said, ‘I think there’s this group like you.’ I thought, ‘That’s scary,’” Jimmy recalled. “We found our best friends. They were people who’d moved to urban centers.
They were fun. They were passionate.”
Since becoming involved with CCDA, Jimmy helped start the Texas version — Texas Christian Community Development Network (TxCCDN). Currently, he serves as president. The No Need Among You conference, which started in Waco but now moves to a different city each year, is part of TxCCDN.
Castellanos said CCDA had been talking about a more regionally focused strategy, and Jimmy led the way for Texas to go first.
“Texas is its own country!” Castellanos joked. “Jimmy continues to attend our conference every year, then we have the reciprocal thing, where we’ll have some of our staff involved in his conference.”
CCDA’s 2017 conference will be held in Detroit. Next year’s No Need Among You conference, for TxCCDN, will be in Houston.
Castellanos says his organization and Mission Waco continue to learn from each other. But there’s something special about Jimmy’s work in Waco.
“One of the key things that Jimmy has done is connecting the homeless problem to a community development strategy. Church Under the Bridge provides not services but a community for homeless individuals to participate in and start relationships,” Castellanos said. “I’ve preached there at Church Under the Bridge. It’s one of the most unique places on earth to try to give a sermon. You might be distracted by a million things. You’d better be good or quick.”
“He’s made mistakes, and he’s owned up to making mistakes — ‘There’s something we didn’t do quite right, but we learn from it, and we move on.’”
Bill Lockhart, Mission Waco board member
Dr. Bill Lockhart is a sociology professor at McLennan Community College. He’s known Jimmy since he and his family moved to Waco in 2001. He is serving a second term on Mission Waco’s board of directors.
“Everyone on the board has been active in some ways in Mission Waco’s programs. Many are volunteers or came out of Church Under the Bridge or grew up in the programs,” he said.
Lockhart’s research focuses on urban studies and urban ministry. The last few years he’s seen Jimmy’s impact expand through TxCCDN. Lockhart says Jimmy’s influence on the next generation is evident at these conferences.
“He can be inspirational, he can get people excited, but he can also be very practical,” Lockhart said. “A good bit about the conference is people sharing practical things that have worked and not worked for them. I think he’s a great resource. Already he’s going outside the Waco area, outside of Texas, to tell people what he’s done, to help people think from a different perspective about how to empower people.”
As a board member, Lockhart admires that although Jimmy is good at fundraising, he doesn’t “chase after the money,” whether from the federal government or private foundations.
“He’s been more like, ‘Let’s build relationships with people. How can we help this community and try to do it on a long-range basis?’” Lockhart said. “He has an amazing ability to remember people’s names and details about programs. Especially with all the fundraising and outreach, he knows people who are wealthier and middle class and people living on the streets and everything in between.”
Most of all, Lockhart respects Jimmy’s ability to persevere.
“The big thing about Jimmy is that he’s kept on keeping on,” he said.
“I actually got kind of emotional, telling him thank you for having the vision and implementing it. When you think about the number of young people and the number of old people and the number of people who came through [the Mission Waco] program themselves. I told him, ‘This is part of your legacy.’ Not that he’s looking for a legacy.”
Kathy Wise, assistant director of Mission Waco
Perhaps Mission Waco’s legacy will be measured one weekend at a time, each one 42 hours. That’s how long a Mission Waco poverty simulation lasts. It’s been holding these weekends for 30 years, which means the poverty simulation is older than the official ministry. Twenty-five thousand people have participated.
Here is part of the description from the Mission Waco website: “In 1986, Jimmy and Janet Dorrell created the poverty simulation for a youth group whose youth pastor wanted to give practical experience along with the Scripture knowledge so they could apply it to their lives.”
That pastor was my youth pastor at Westlake Bible Church in Austin, Rob Harrell.
“Rob came in, and he contacted us,” Jimmy said. “We’d just gotten back from India. [And Harrell said], ‘Could you create a weekend that would push our kids to deal with their prejudice?’ We put together an experiential thing, and it went so well that Rob wrote an article for Group magazine, and then another youth director wanted to do it, and another youth director and so on.”
I did not participate in that weekend, so to learn how the poverty simulation works, I contacted a recent high school graduate.
Anna Re and her youth group from Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, drove down to Waco in the summer of 2013.
“It was pretty crazy. It was a really long drive, around 18 hours,” she said.
The youth group is mission-minded and was looking for an opportunity to serve and learn.
“Waco just kind of hit us. Not sure how we found Waco or they found us,” she said.
Re has a heart for missions and had been on mission trips before. She thought this would just be another one. No big deal.
“When I got down there, I was like, ‘This is going to be easy. I’ve got this. Whatever, God! I’m fine!’ Then we had to get in clothes that were not our own. We had to sleep on the ground. I was like, ‘OK, I can do this.’ As the night went on, and I don’t have a phone, and I don’t have a toothbrush or an unlimited food supply and water, I was like, ‘Wow, I miss my cushion. I can’t get up in the middle of the night and grab a blanket or a bowl of ice cream,’” Re said. “I want my snow globe, my world.’”
It was a little like Jimmy’s powwow with God at Cameron Park, only this one happened on the streets of Waco.
“I was just sitting there talking to God. He humbled me that night. I woke up like, ‘Thank you, God,’” Re said.
The weekend ended with Church Under the Bridge. The youth group helped set up the service and then worshiped alongside homeless people, who’d told them their stories over the course of the weekend, and 6-year-old kids who ran back to their apartments a mile and a half away all by themselves after the service ended.
“It was beyond words,” Re said. “Even when you’re serving at other things, like a homeless shelter, you think you understand. But when you’re actually thrown into a circumstance where you’re living with people, you’re hearing their stories, you’re worshiping with them — they become real people.”
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Frederick Buechner, “Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC”
Jimmy is the one being honored as Wacoan of the Year, but it’s rare for someone to mention his name without adding “and Janet.” She is the co-founder of Mission Waco and is in charge of the exposure trips overseas and the poverty simulations.
“It’s easy for my dad to get a lot of credit, but people overlook my mom who’s been standing there the entire time,” Josh Dorrell said. “It’s a family buy-in, not only just my dad. There’s a lot of legacy in the family dynamic. It’s time and investment from the whole family in caring for the least of these.”
Jimmy and Janet are parents of four children and grandparents of six, with one on the way.
“Josh, he does what we do in Galveston,” Jimmy said. “Zach turned 29 this December. He came back to Waco two years ago to do an associate’s degree in solar energy technology [from Texas State Technical College]. He’s been in Haiti with us. He and Janet just got back from there.”They were doing relief work after Hurricane Matthew.
The Dorrells adopted a child from the neighborhood, Crystal, when she was 3 years old.
“Crystalina. She’d stay with us a day, then overnight, then two days, then over the next two months.” After a long process, the Dorrells formally adopted her. She and her husband and children live in the neighborhood.
In 2013, the Dorrells lost their son Seth.
“He got colon cancer. He was 33. He met his wife under the bridge — Baylor girl, social worker. They went to Philadelphia, lived in the inner city, decided they wanted to go to Haiti. Came home, started treatment. Finished surgery and chemo and was still weak and struggling. We put him to work at Mission Waco on global stuff. He ended up going with us to Mexico City, and it’s still a mystery what happened. The whole trip he was physically worn out. He slept a lot of the trip. One night he didn’t wake up,” Jimmy said. “There’s no way to describe that kind of pain.”
After Seth’s death the community was generous, giving a total of $96,000.
“We’ve been holding it for three years for something special,” Jimmy said.
That something special is Urban REAP, which stands for Renewable Energy and Agriculture Project. It will include a solar-powered aquaponics greenhouse on the lot next door to Jubilee Market. Both the produce and the fish will be sold in the grocery store. The greenhouse will also have a small room that will serve as a training facility where people in the neighborhood can learn how to grow fresh produce sustainably and become better stewards.
Green Mountain Energy’s Sun Club gave $234,000 for the program. When Mission Waco sent in the initial grant, Jimmy said this was Green Mountain’s response: “‘We like what you’ve done — make it bigger,’” he said. “I brought together six professors and an architect, and we began to dream.”
They dreamed big. Urban REAP will also include composting, rainwater catchment, water purification, urban grow beds and vermiculture, all components of sustainable living that recall Jimmy’s master’s in environmental studies, a degree which Seth also earned.
Early 2017 will be dedicated to this new venture. In addition to the Green Mountain Energy grant, some of the money will come from the Seth Dorrell Memorial Fund and some will still need to be raised.
“After that, Lord willing, I want to take a sabbatical and write,” Jimmy said.
He’s already written three books — “Trolls & Truth,” “Plunge2Poverty” (with Janet) and “Dead Church Walking.” That last one was written in 2006. A lot has happened in these last 10 years. He might have a few things to say.
But whether he writes another book or not, whether he launches another program or not, whether he teaches another class or not, there is one constant in Jimmy’s life: table tennis.
“Jimmy is just sneaky. When I turned 90, Waco [KWTX] channel 10, they come walking in, and I thought they were going to do a story about cooking classes there. Jimmy had talked them into coming and surprising me with a 90th birthday party. Last year they came in with a cake shaped like table tennis paddle. Every year since 90 they’ve surprised me with a birthday party at the table tennis club.”
Ira Walton, table tennis champion
In an op-ed piece that ran in the Waco Tribune-Herald on July 12, 2015, Jimmy wrote, “I have an answer for all the dysfunctional local and global angst. Play ping pong.”
I was shocked he used the p-word.
“Don’t ever call it ping pong,” warned Kathy Wise.
So when I interviewed Jimmy, I called the sport by its proper name: table tennis. I asked when he’d last played.
“Yesterday,” he said. “I think that’s why I’m still sane. It is my weekly passion. That’s where I find my one-hour break from all the crazy stuff we do here.”
Jimmy explained that when he came to Baylor in 1968, he heard there were some “old guys” who played in the Waco Table Tennis Club.
“There were about 10 or 12 of them. They had their names on back of their shirts,” he said. “Every one of them beat the dog out of me.”
The founder, Dr. Grady Gordon, who has since passed away, was the national champion in his age bracket at the time.
“It took me 13 years to beat him in a game, another three years to beat him in a match,” Jimmy said.
The club has met at different venues over the years but now plays at The Center at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church every weekday afternoon.
Ira Walton, age 94, is the longest-playing member of the club. He began playing at Paul Quinn College when it was still in Waco and then continued to play in the Army. Now Walton competes in the National Veterans Golden Age Games and has won more than 20 gold medals. Jimmy thinks he is one of only two men still playing in that age bracket.
“I’m in the last age group, and I’ve been in it since ’85,” Walton said.
He wasn’t sure how long he has been playing against Jimmy, but it’s been decades.
“He’s busier than all of us put together because he has so many things going on every day, training and teaching and the benevolence business. When he comes in, it’s always a big smile, and he has something comical to say.”
Walton says whenever Jimmy does play, he’s always competitive.
“Jimmy’s our best player,” Walton said. “[And he] is a fantastic person. He really does a lot of benevolence. He’s a professor at Baylor, and he’s a minister, and he’s a table tennis player.”
“He has a heart for the poor. He is a warrior for shalom [peace]. That’s something that I know he seeks in God’s name for everyone. Jimmy as a person, and Janet, anyone who has even just met them would say they felt the love of Christ.”
Tricia Mankin, Mission Waco volunteer (19 years), former board member
I arrived at World Cup Café a few minutes late for our interview. Jimmy was getting a cup of coffee and chatting with the woman who was both the waitress and the checkout clerk. It was Halloween, and she was dressed as a black cat. Jimmy gave her a hug as he poured a cup of coffee.
When he saw me, he said, “You gotta come back here and see this,” and led me toward the kitchen. A man was cooking. He had his back to me, so Jimmy called out to him and waved.
The man turned around and waved back. He was wearing a Jason mask.
Sure, it was Halloween, and people dress up at work. But I thought about how Jimmy shows the love of Christ to everyone. If a woman dressed as a black cat walked into Jubilee Market, or if a man wearing a Jason mask showed up at Church Under the Bridge, Jimmy wouldn’t mind. He’d wave and hug or maybe give them a fist bump, as he gave me at the end of our interview.
Meeting Jimmy at the World Cup Café meant we were often interrupted. People walked over to our booth to say hi to Jimmy, or he’d notice someone and wave them over.
“I do 50 percent of my meetings here,” he said.
It’s not unusual that the person I’m interviewing will ask me a question, usually, “How long have you worked for the Wacoan?” Jimmy did ask that question, which led to several more questions about my career. He knows my husband through nonprofit connections, but he hadn’t realized that we’re married, so that led to more questions. I told him that in 1988 I’d taken a trip with him and Janet to Mexico City — more questions. At one point I had to force myself to stop answering questions and start asking them.
This is why everyone loves Jimmy — rich and poor; homeless and university students; black, white, brown; black cats and hockey masks. Whoever you are, he wants to know your story.
That morning he ordered The Colcord breakfast with a side of oatmeal.
“I’m an old man,” he said, excusing the oatmeal.
We discussed his favorite movie, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” which is about the man who became St. Francis and, to a lesser degree, the woman who became St. Clare.
“People don’t understand poverty. They’ve always struggled with wealth and poverty issues,” Jimmy said. “I show [the movie] every semester to our college kids, and we debrief it. I showed it about two weeks ago.”
I asked Jimmy for his favorite scene. He mentioned the one when Francis’s friend Bernardo joins him at San Damiano.
“He goes to the monastery for the first time and climbs up the ladder, and Francis says, ‘Words, words, Bernardo. There was a time when I believed in words.’”
Mission Waco Mission World is not about words, unless you count listening, and Jimmy does.
“We listened to the neighborhood. We learned, How do you listen to people? Instead of let’s paint their house, we want to listen,” he said.
I had told my friend Tonya Warren to meet me at World Cup Café at 11 a.m., thinking my interview would last no more than an hour. At 11:30, Jimmy and I were still talking, so I invited her to join us. I told Jimmy that she’s volunteered with the Mission Waco School Supply Store. He asked if she had done so this year, and she admitted she hadn’t.
“For repentance, you need to help here,” Jimmy joked. “I don’t like to do guilt, but I will.”
He asked her more questions and listened as she answered. Warren said she’s a nurse. When Jimmy heard that, he shoved his sawed off index finger in her face.
“Can you fix this?” he asked.
“Only Jesus can fix that,” Warren said.
All of a sudden I remembered Jimmy on that mission trip to Mexico, doing silly finger tricks for the orphans.
Jimmy looked at me and said, “I’d’ve cut off my finger off years before if I’d realized how much fun it’d be.”
Then Jimmy turned to my friend and asked, “So what’s your story?”