By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service
WACO, Texas — Tractor-trailer rigs roared overhead.
Cigarette smoke wafted in the air as a praise band played drums and electric guitars on a stage set up amid tall concrete columns.
On the Sunday (Nov. 18) before Thanksgiving, poor people riding bicycles and pushing old grocery carts lined up — as they do every week — to eat and worship God underneath Interstate 35.
For now, a patch of gravel between Baylor University and businesses such as CVS Pharmacy and In-N-Out Burger serves as the meeting place for Church Under the Bridge, which began with a handful of homeless people studying the Bible with pastor Jimmy Dorrell in 1992.
“These people loved me when I didn’t love myself,” said Robert Walker, 50, who has battled drug addiction and spent time in and out of prison. “The only reason why I wouldn’t be here is if I was incarcerated.”
But next March, the 26-year-old church — which serves hundreds of this Central Texas city’s neediest and most vulnerable residents — will become homeless itself.
A $300 million, multiyear widening project along I-35 in Waco — a city of about 135,000 halfway between Dallas and Austin — will displace Church Under the Bridge.
The Texas Department of Transportation began warning Dorrell, co-founder and president of a ministry called Mission Waco, about the impending construction several years ago. He jokingly refers to the project as “our church remodel.”
“They were concerned about us,” Dorrell said of the highway officials. “We laugh about that because we’re just squatters. We have no right to be at the table.”
After the Waco Tribune-Herald reported on the church’s plight, Dorrell got a call from one of this city’s most famous residents: Chip Gaines, who with his wife, Joanna, starred in the HGTV home-improvement reality series “Fixer Upper.”
Religion News Service is a national wire service whose media partners include The Associated Press, USA Today and the Washington Post.