Jimmy Dorrell isn’t sure whether his father-in-law ever forgave him.

Not long after his marriage, Dorrell and his wife, Janet, sold their house and bought airline tickets so they could travel the world for six months. But, as it turned out, that trip proved to be much more than a sight-seeing excursion. The couple saw magnificent cathdrals all over the world. But they were empty.

“The world is changing,” Dorrell said, “and the church is losing its people.”

Picture of Jimmy Dorrell

Jimmy Dorrell

Dorrell, pastor of Church Under the Bridge and founder of Mission Waco/Mission World, was guest speaker for the Sept. 10 fall dinner hosted by Christian Service Center. Theme was “Building Bridges, Rebuilding Lives.”

Before Dorrell took the stage, Seaton Higginbotham, chairman of the board of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce, talked about the importance of collaboration among various governmental entities, nonprofits, and other agencies, in alleviating poverty.

“We must connect, not protect,” he said.

Dorrell entertained and enlightened the audience with humor and insight into solving social problems. The Dorrells could have fallen into despair after traveling the world and seeing all those empty cathedrals. Instead, they found a way to take the church to the people, a lesson they saw in full force in India.  While there, the Dorrells worked with Mother Teresa in a place for the dying.

“What do you do when you’ve seen that kind of pain?” Dorrell asked.

You don’t go back to a middle class way of life. Instead the Dorrells moved into a poor neighborhood in Waco and began to make changes. They built a basketball court and the neighborhood kids came to play.

“Those children on the basketball court became Mission Waco,” Dorrell said.

Over the years, Dorrell has inspired many changes in the neighborhood, adding a Jubilee Center, with a super market in the former food desert. Dorrell and his staff asked people of the neighborhood what they wanted and found they needed a job training program and a recovery program. WFAA television station in Dallas came to Waco to film a segment on what Dorrell was doing to transform a Waco neighborhood.

“Becoming neighbors has been our life,” Dorrell said.

But that’s just part of what he’s done in Waco. One morning he and his wife were eating breakfast at a cafe in the neighborhood and saw a homeless man under a bridge watching them. They invited him for breakfast. Subsequent breakfasts led to more invitations.

“The third week breakfast cost $300,” Dorrell joked.

Soon, those meals turned into a Bible study under a bridge beneath Interstate 35, which bisects Waco. Over the next 27 years, the Church Under the Bridge grew to 300 people.

“Transformation happens when we invest as friends and begin to relate to one another,” Dorrell said.

Dorrell earned a bachelor of arts in religion from Baylor University in 1972 and a master of divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1978. He added a master of arts in environmental studies from Baylor in 1993. And, in 2001, he earned a doctor of ministry degree from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

But with all his education, Dorrell’s heart lies with listening to the people he feels called to serve and responding. As a sophomore at Baylor, Dorrell worked as a youth director at a center that served the poor.

“I smelled poverty at 19 years old,” he said. “Something began to happen to me.”

But it wasn’t always easy. He was cussed at by children and had to separate fights. He saw what a life of poverty can lead to. One day, he took a walk in a local park and “whined to God” by his own admission. The answer he got was not what he expected but it led to a difference in him and eventually to a difference in the people he now serves.

“Go back and love those kids,” was God’s response.



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