A Slice of Heaven

I-35 and 4th

This is the Site for Church Under the Bridge

Beneath Interstate 35, between 4th and 5th streets in Waco, TX, sits an egg shaped island of concrete covering about ¾ of an acre. Most days it’s just a vast oval of cement but come Sunday morning it is transformed into a little slice of heaven.

Food Line

Lining up for a Spaghetti Dinner at 10:30 am

Vans and pick-up trucks pulling trailers that have been fitted for special purposes begin pulling up on this island an hour or two after sunrise. Out come the portable stage, sound system and instruments for the worship team. Off another trailer with custom racks come the metal folding chairs for the congregation and plastic tables for the meal to be served by a visiting church from the region. Nearby the serving tables one finds a few more tables where those who desire can sign up for small groups or grab helpful resources and information or buy their very own Troll t-shirt.

At yet another set of tables one might find a youth group from another area church preparing to pass out fresh fruit and water.

CUB Bikers

Some of the Regular Bikers

As it becomes obvious that a gathering is going to take place more vehicles begin to arrive. Cars, trucks motorcycles and scooters begin to line the outer edge of the island and pull under the shelter of the southbound lane of the highway. As space becomes scarce, folks start parking in a vacant lot across the street or along the side streets to the east and west. Before you know it, people (and a few dogs) who have driven, ridden and walked are gathered together as the body of Christ.

CUB Message

An Attentive Congregation

While many churches may have a sign in front of their’ buildings indicating that “All Are Welcome”, few appear to believe that. However, the people gathered under the bridge seem to know this fact without any sign telling them so. Those who’ve come together represent all social and economic strata. There are plenty of middle class looking people one might find in your average church, more than a few rough looking bikers, those clearly down on their luck and homeless struggling to survive, alongside corporate executives, business owners and other people of means. Throw in a few college students and professors from nearby Baylor University, and consider that in each of the above categories one finds every shade of skin color and we indeed find a little slice of heaven. Or at least, what heaven will look like one day, for those who have put their trust in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, the Christ.

Having reached the approximate halfway point in my journey, both in terms of time and miles, I find I have been blessed in ways I never would have imagined. In almost every state or region I have been, I have found some deep, deep pools, where people of faith, acting in obedience to the Word of God and His will as it has been revealed to them, are marvelously impacting the communities around them and reflecting the nature and Character of Christ.

Unity in Worship

A Diverse Congregation

While I have many miles to go and many more regions to explore, I have a slight fear I may have peaked here in Waco. Between all the programs of Mission Waco, the incredibly authentic Church Under the Bridge and the cooperation from other churches in the city, I find it hard to believe I could find anything that better represents what I set out to find.

That statement should not detract in any way from the people and places I have been to date, nor do I expect it to leave me disappointed in what is yet to come, it is simply that almost everything has come together here in Waco.

Though the opening paragraphs of this post along with the photos might give you a limited picture of what you would find if you were to make the journey here yourself, let me take a few minutes now to share the stories of some of the people I met who have been touched by this church without walls


Pastor Jimmy Dorrell

Because Jimmy introduced me at the Friday breakfast and again from the platform on Sunday several people came up to me to chat face-to-face. While all were interested in the story of my trip many  others were equally anxious to share with me the impact this church has had in their lives.

When I shared with one man that I had been the director of a transitional housing program for men in recovery, he said, “Oh cool, I’m in recovery.” He then went on to share the heartbreaking story of his downfall and his journey back. Fourteen years ago his ten-year old daughter was raped, beaten and killed. The shock, pain and emotional upheaval of this tragic loss were too much for him to bear. He began to drink heavily and when the alcohol could not numb his feelings he turned to drugs and then more drugs and more booze and anything at all that might provide a moment or two in which his tortured mind didn’t picture her beaten body.

Pastoral care

Pastoral Care and Prayer Prior to Service

Living in an almost constant stupor, going to church didn’t even enter his mind. Then one day, about five years ago he happened across this open-air church. No one seemed to look down on him in his inebriated state. Instead he found a place of welcome and love and slowly began to realize that there was a better way and that he could move on with his life. He didn’t act like suddenly everything was better, but over time he found new ways to cope and a glorious new life in Christ.

At the ball field Sunday afternoon (It just so happened that this past Sunday was CUB’s annual “Toilet Bowl” touch football game and Chili Cook-off) another man approached me to wish me well on my journey and told me the story of his family moving to Waco so they could be a part of this church. He explained that his son was born with developmental disabilities and as a Christian family they tried to live their lives as normally as they could, continuing to attend their church and treating their son with respect and dignity. As the boy grew, however, they found it hard to keep him still and quiet during service. He would get up and wander about and occasionally try to walk up on the platform and grab a microphone. One day the pastor spoke rather harshly to him, and while he could understand that his son might cause others to be distracted, he felt hurt and dejected.

On a visit to Waco, the family attended Church Under the Bridge. Though many are seated and focused on the music and the message, there are still quite a few people who are milling around during the service, so the boy was not alone in his wanderings and not the distraction he was considered in his home church. At one point the boy’s wandering led him to the edge of the stage and he headed for the stairs to climb on up. As his father dashed to stop him, Janet, the pastor’s wife and worship leader said, “It’s okay, he can come up here if he wants to.”

Unity 2

All Ages and Backgrounds

Imagine the feelings that rushed through that father. The son that he loved was not seen as a distraction or a nuisance or a problem, instead he was accepted and welcomed. Immediately the family began to make plans to move to Waco.

A woman I bumped into in the parking lot told me how she had been a member of a fairly fundamentalist church and didn’t really fit in. She tried another church that was a little less dogmatic and for a time felt comfortable, but subsequent moves and a search for another church where she felt she belonged proved difficult and she was about ready to give up on church altogether. Then she found Church Under the Bridge, where the Bible is not only preached, but is also lived out effectively in the context of community. Today she is a small group leader within the church and loving every minute of it.

These are just three quick snippets of what I have a very strong notion, represent dozens of similar stories that could be told were I to stick around Waco for any length of time. Part of me would love to do just that; hang my hat here for a while and learn these stories first hand, but to paraphrase my fellow Granite Stater Robert Frost;

“The church is lovely, bright, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.”

CUB From Behind

Behinds the Scenes View




Mission Waco – Mission World


Mission Waco – Mission World Offices, Jubilee Theater and World Cup Cafe

I came to Waco because I ran into someone in Cottondale, FL who told me about Church Under the Bridge, which sounded intriguing to me. What I found was far more than a unique church, though that in and of it’s self is very cool. In addition I found a Christian Community Organization called Mission Waco that operates over two-dozen programs for adults, teens and children. I had the opportunity the other night to attend their annual banquet, and the next morning sat with the founder, Jimmy Dorrell who offered me a quick overview, then handed me off to an Executive Assistant who took me around town to tour several of their facilities and programs.


Jimmy Dorrell handing out awards at the Annual Banquet

The scope of this ministry is almost overwhelming, addressing a myriad of social ills with a distinctly Biblical approach. Even as I write that phrase, I cringe to think of what that might mean to those of you who read it. Some will think, “Great, they preach the Gospel and tell people about Jesus, because Jesus is the answer!” Others will surmise: “Oh great, they just preach at people and tell them if they don’t clean up their acts, they will go to hell.” Still others might assume this is some type of modern Robin Hood-ery, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, an effort to “redistribute wealth” under a Christian cloak. But the truth is, a Biblical, Christ-like response to poverty, hunger, homelessness, addiction, education and commerce is very different from any of the above.

Over and over again the Bible instructs us to follow the heart of God who cares for the poor. In the law, God instructed the harvesters not to harvest completely in either field or vineyard, in order that the poor and needy would have opportunity to gather for themselves’.

Following his baptism and wilderness temptation, Jesus entered the Temple in his hometown and read these words found in the book of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

    because he has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

    and recovery of sight for the blind,

to set the oppressed free,

    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then he sat down and said: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (see Luke 4:18-21 NIV)

If God, the Father, instructs us to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan and the alien, and God the Son declares that the Spirit anointed him to proclaim good news, freedom, recovery and favor to the poor, prisoners, blind and oppressed, then I suppose we, who bear his name and are called to be his ambassadors ought to pay attention and follow his lead. And that’s exactly what the programs and services of Mission Waco are designed to do.

According to their Mission Statement, they: Provide Christian-based holistic, relationship-based programs that empower the poor and marginalized. Mobilize middle-class Americans to become more compassionately involved among the poor. Seek ways to overcome the systemic issues of social injustice which oppress the poor and marginalized.


World Cup Cafe

Following an empowerment model of care, all those who receive services are encouraged to accept and grow in responsibility. Though space does not allow for all details, nor do I desire to bore my readers, let me summarize with the following: In most of the programs that might be free elsewhere, there is a small, manageable fee for services that increases as time goes on. For instance, in the homeless shelter, the first three nights are free. On nights four through thirty, there is a $2.00/night charge which increases to $5.00 for nights thirty-one through sixty-three, at which time the expectation is that the person is moving on or moving up to a different type of program.


Fair Trade Market

As I write this post, I am sitting at the counter of the World Cup Café, a quaint 45-seat restaurant operated by Mission Waco, which declares they are “changing the world one cup at a time, while remembering fair trade for a fair world.” Attached to the restaurant is the Fair Trade Market, which sells a wide variety of jewelry, clothing and crafts, created by artisans from around the world now earning a living wage.


Handcrafted Jewelry and Baskets

This whole organization came to be when Jimmy and Janet Dorrell, understanding God’s call to incarnational ministry, bought a home in a blighted neighborhood in North Waco. As I’ve gleaned from conversations with a Jimmy and others, this area was previously a well to do primarily Jewish neighborhood. Over time it became a poor, mostly black neighborhood and now, thanks to incarnational ministry and the growth of Mission Waco, it is a racially and ethnically diverse neighborhood on the rise.


The Former Porn House – Jubilee Theater

The building that houses the café and market is also the location of the administrative offices and sandwiched between the two is the Jubilee Theater which was formerly a porn house, and now hosts productions with a Christian and/or socially conscious message. Some of those very productions are written and prepared by staff and youth at the Youth Center which is the next building down. There, area youth gather Monday through Thursday afternoon for a time of Bible Study, fun, tutoring, music and learning. There is a fully equipped sound studio where the kids are able to produce their own hip-hop music. Down the block and around the corner we find yet another building, this one offering after school programs for kids ages four to eleven.


Youth Center

All that I share here, just barely scratches the surface of what Mission Waco is doing in this community. The truth is that while I keep mentioning Mission Waco, their full name is Mission Waco – Mission World, for they have programs and services in Mexico City, India and Haiti as well. At the banquet the other night they promoted a project they are undertaking this fall to bring solar lighting to an entire village in Haiti. With no electricity in this village the primary home light source is kerosene lamps. Medical research has shown that breathing the soot produced by these lamps is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes per day. These solar lights will not only alleviate this health risk, but will provide lengthened study time for students eager to learn.

Of all the things that amaze me about this place that so marvelously reflects the nature and character of Christ, I think what amazes me most is that I had never heard of it before arriving Tuesday evening. There is no doubt in my mind that this ministry should be more widely known, broadly studied and perhaps replicated, in community after community around the United States.

Man Plans – God Laughs


San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene

So after witnessing some very cool ministry in south Texas and starting to get a sense of a great movement afoot, I began to head north in order to continue west. Arrived in San Antonio the other day and spent some time concentrating on work matters trying to earn enough money to complete the trip. Spent a little time researching churches around San Antonio and discovered that there are a lot of churches here. According to Nazarene.org, there are Nineteen Nazarene churches in San Antonio. That’s more than in the states of New Hampshire and Vermont combined. That left me with lots of choices, but oddly, none of them were particularly close to where I was staying, well, accept for First Church of the Nazarene, but with so many newer churches, my expectation was that “First Church” would be kind of the old fuddy duddy church that tends to leave me cold. I’m looking for out of the box, cutting edge stuff, so First Church was the last place I planned to be today.

The fact is, since there is another Church Under the Bridge here in town, (which like the church of the same name in Houston, no longer meets under the bridge, since the city won’t allow it.) I had planned to attend services there. However, when I went out to dry off my bike this morning and start loading my gear, I discovered that someone stole my tank bag right off the bike last night. It was a little worn and I have actually thought about getting a new one, so the bag itself is no great loss, but it had a couple hundred dollars worth of stuff, like riding glasses, a couple pair of gloves, some tools and other miscellaneous items.

After filing a report with the hotel and the San Antonio Police, I was running a little behind schedule but I figured it was no big deal if I showed up a few minutes late so I plugged the address into my phone for navigation and dang, my phone said it couldn’t connect to the network and I knew there was no way I could find my way without directions.

By this point I was starting to get angry, but immediately those words from James popped into my mind; “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4 NIV) This is a notion I have been working on truly embracing, not just after the fact; but, in the midst of the trial. So I began to pray, “Okay God, thank you for this trial, I rejoice in you and even in the fact that I was robbed last night. I’m figuring that you have a higher purpose that I can’t see just now, so I turn this situation over to you. Now, where shall I go to church this morning?” Right away, a map of the area with a blue line leading me to First Church popped into my head. I remembered that when I had looked at this map on the computer, it was supposed to take twelve minutes from my current location and it was now 10:23 and service started at 10:40, so off I went laughing to myself at the absurdity of it all.


Pastor Matt Rice

By the time I arrived at the church, I was expecting good things, and God did not disappoint. Walking into the foyer I spotted the coffee pot and went to grab myself a cup, so far so good. Upon entering the sanctuary I was handed a bulletin and received a friendly greeting. When I told the woman who greeted me that I was expecting good things because I felt God led me there she began to explain a few things about the church, their vision for the future and introduced me to the pastor who was passing by and then said she thought there was a guest preacher there to share about church planting. “Hah, very funny God” I thought. For those who don’t know me personally, I am a fifty-six year old man (57 by the end of the week, but I’m not about to call myself that just yet) who nearly burned out on two previous church plants and so far on this trip I have twice been invited to plant a church and twice more asked to stick around and help out in young churches. In each of these cases my response has been to smile, point out that I have a quest to complete, but promise to pray about it, which has effectively ended the discussion. For my un-churched friends, the “I’ll pray about it” line is the church speak equivalent of the parent who says, “We’ll see” when they don’t want to come out and say “no” to their kids.

Early in the service, the director of their compassionate ministry center, did a brief presentation, noting that they distribute food to about one-hundred, seventy families each week, providing approximately $42.00 worth of food at retail prices, for about $1.18 in actual cost, thanks to their partnership with the local food bank. Happy to discover that they had a separate 501 (c) 3 Compassionate Ministry, what impressed me most was the fact that the entire church was excited to hear about it and celebrated this wonderful work.


Pastor and Congregation of San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene

As the pastor stood to introduce the guest speaker, he shared briefly his own vision for planting churches and outposts throughout the city and again the congregation responded with enthusiastic amens. Then Scotty Young, the Church Planter, stepped to the pulpit and began to share about the work he is planting in the Heights section of Houston. As he described the work they are doing, their vision and mission, I was thrilled to hear how solidly Biblical and Christ reflecting it is.

Then he said something I had been waiting to hear. “God calls us to make disciples, not to build churches.” To be honest, his words might not have been exactly those; that is a quote I have heard twice before on this trip and I have been fully expecting God to confirm something to me by having a third person say it. I think Scotty actually put it a little more eloquently as he described his interactions with some of the people he has met in this new work, but the gist is the same.

It was such a blessing this morning to be reminded that God is still very much alive and active in the the Church of the Nazarene. To see that he is raising up men and women of all ages to bring the message of his love to people who need to hear and that many are recognizing the mission field just outside our own doors.

I’m nearly half way through this journey (at least the scheduled portion of it) and knowing that there is so much more to discover and learn, one things that has been made wonderfully clear to me is this: the less I depend on my plans and ability to make something happen, and the more I depend on God and trust him to lead, the better things go. I planned, God laughed, and I’m actually learning to laugh with him.