Eleven Perkins students traveled to Waco earlier this month for a January Term immersion trip with Mission Waco, a ministry serving those in need. Students stayed in local hotels near Mission Waco and had a chance to hear from Mission Waco founder Dr. Jimmy Dorrell and to observe the ministry in action.
“One of the goals of this class/trip is to prepare students to understand and engage in holistic urban ministry among the poor and marginalized,” said Dr. Hugo Magallanes, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, who led the group. “Dr. Jimmy Dorrell and Mission Waco provide hands on experience as well as excellent resources for students to develop and incorporate this approach into their present and future ministries.”
Mission Waco provides “Christian-based, holistic, relationship-based programs that empower the poor and marginalized,” according to its mission statement. The ministry also seeks to mobilize middle-class Christians to become more compassionately connected to the poor and to address systemic issues that contribute to poverty. The ministry’s offerings include a grocery store, a theater, a coffee shop and restaurant, a fair-trade store, buildings for programming for youth and children, a drug rehab house, a clinic, and a homeless shelter – all under the Mission Waco umbrella. Students had the opportunity to learn the nuts and bolts of how the mission is organized and run. Dorrell presented several lectures and led activities with the group.
Jennifer Gros, an M.Div. student in the Houston-Galveston program, joined the trip to learn more about how to best serve the homeless. As associate pastor at Faith UMC in Spring, Texas, she often encounters people who are homeless or who need assistance with rent or other needs at the church.
“I was looking to better understand homelessness and poverty and to learn how to work with people in those situations, to help them, not hurt them,” she said. While the first instinct is always to meet the immediate need, such as food or help with rent, Gros said, “Giving handouts is not the answer most of the time. If you’re just giving handouts, that can take away the person’s power to help themselves. That doesn’t address the source of the problem.”
Gros said she particularly appreciated opportunities during the trip to eat meals with homeless clients and to get to know them on a personal level.
She added that she was impressed by Dorrell’s work and his creative approach. For example, those staying in the mission’s homeless shelter are charged one dollar for their first night’s stay.
“Jimmy Dorrell wants them to have a part in their own recovery, to have pride and dignity,” Gros said. “He doesn’t just put on a band-aid. His approach developed from stopping to get to know people, from truly connecting with the people he serves.”
Michaela Calahan, a first-year M.Div. student, initially joined the trip because she needed the credit hours. But she left with a deepened interest in working in ministries outside of the church.
Calahan also noted the importance of tackling long-term issues to truly address homelessness and poverty.
“If someone is chronically homeless, likely there are mental health reasons,” she said. “Fixing the problem involves more longstanding processes than just handing someone cash.”
Calahan appreciated the opportunity to spend time learning from Dorrell. She noted examples of how Dorrell’s intimate knowledge of the community helped him to serve more effectively. He built a basketball court near his home for the youth. He opened a supermarket that offers healthy food in what would otherwise be a food desert.
“He bought a house for $12,000 in a poor neighborhood of Waco,” she said. “He built relationships with the people. He’s being there as the hands and feet of Jesus.”