Pro Ecclesia Medal of Service – Jimmy, B.A. ’72, M.A. ’93, and Janet Dorrell, B.S. ’80, M.S. ’02
Pro Ecclesia Medal of Service
Few people have affected so many individuals in as many corners of the city of Waco as Jimmy and Janet Dorrell. Through decades of ministry to materially impoverished people, Jimmy and Janet have made an immeasurable impact on spiritual and material needs in Waco and beyond.
Both Jimmy and Janet are Baylor graduates twice over. Jimmy Dorrell earned a bachelor’s studying religion and a master’s in environmental studies from Baylor, in addition to a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Doctorate of Ministry from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Janet Dorrell studied education and science as an undergraduate and earned a master’s in environmental science with an emphasis on applied anthropology at Baylor.
Jimmy and Janet are the cofounders of Mission Waco and Mission World, a ministry that seeks to empower the poor and marginalized, equip resourced Americans to become more compassionately involved, and engage systemic issues of social injustice in the United States, South Asia, Haiti, Mexico and Colombia.
The global reach of the Dorrells’ ministry began as a grassroots effort in Waco. What would become a mainstay ministry in Waco started with Janet and Jimmy faithfully taking the next step over the course of years, rather than enacting a plan to realize a foreseen vision for the community.
“Our model is listening, not going over and doing what we think works,” Jimmy said.
This commitment to listening planted the seeds of their ministry, both locally and globally. The Dorrells bought a house in a struggling neighborhood in North Waco. They committed to live among the poor and share Christ’s love through personal relationships.
In 1992, they were having breakfast when they invited homeless people who were sleeping under the bridge on I-35 to join them. A few weeks of breakfasts later, the homeless asked them to lead a Bible study at the bridge. The study grew steadily into what the Dorrells recognized as a church, which became known as Church Under the Bridge. Jimmy still serves as the pastor for the congregation.
The Dorrells bought property to transform into places that built up the community, like World Cup Cafe and youth art programs, conferring with other neighborhood residents on what they needed and wanted to see made possible. Over time, the ministry expanded in other areas with the establishment of Jubilee Food Market to address the need for healthful food security, Urban REAP and affordable housing initiatives.
“All that happened incrementally,” Jimmy said. “We didn’t go down with a master plan, we just did the next thing.”
Jimmy and Janet’s ministry in Waco is in part informed by their global experience. After they bought their house in Waco, they spent three years travelling and living with different communities, including in Haiti, India and Mexico City. Their love for people and communities around the world only continued to grow when they set roots in Waco.
Janet is the director of Mission World. Her work serves families through women’s and children’s empowerment, focusing on training, tutoring, computer and sewing laboratories, and microcredit. She also leads exposure trips to Mexico City, Haiti and India. The model of empowerment that the Dorrells focus on — both locally and globally — is one of sustainable solutions rather than fixing people.
“Empowerment is what changes communities and it costs a lot more money and it takes so much longer to do and sometimes it doesn’t feel good. It’s really hard,” Janet said.
For Jimmy and Janet, the community formed by living alongside the poor and marginalized, regardless what life brings, is what it’s all about.
“Mission Waco is a nonprofit, but a nonprofit is designed to walk alongside the church, not to be the church. Being the people of God, practicing the kingdom, cross-culturally and across economics, that is where the church is,” Jimmy explained. “Pro Ecclesia for me means let’s be the church.”
Janet agreed, “That’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”