John Calaway, new executive director of Mission Waco, laughed when it was jokingly suggested he would make people forget about his predecessor, Jimmy Dorrell. Dorrell and his wife, Janet, have been the driving force behind the organization they founded 25 years ago to make the poor a priority.

“I think everybody knows better than that,” said Calaway, 33, who chatted in the yard of an aging home on Colcord Avenue.

He is buying the home to live near the people he and his family will serve: the poor, the marginalized, the homeless and those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.

As for Dorrell, 68, he’s not going anywhere, he said by phone. He will turn day-to-day operations over to Calaway, a former student of his at Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary. Dorrell said the move will give him more time to focus on spreading the news of Mission Waco. He will also continue to contribute to projects he has recently started, including Jubilee Food Market and transformation of a former liquor store into a yet-to-be-determined community asset.

Dorrell said he asked Calaway last April to join the Mission Waco staff, hoping to groom him to lead an organization with 70 employees, an estimated 125 volunteers who show up weekly, and an annual budget of $3.5 million. Mission Waco, which has added Mission World to its name, calls a cluster of buildings at 15th Street and Colcord Avenue its home base, but its influence spreads beyond Waco’s city limits.

At least 15 programs offer temporary and long-term housing, medical consultations and job training, among other services. Mission Waco operates programs under the names Manna House, My Brothers Keeper, The Meyer Center, Jubilee Theater and Urban Expressions, among others.

At last count, 24,000 people have participated in Mission Waco’s “poverty simulation,” in which volunteers live on the streets for a weekend, exposing themselves to conditions faced by the homeless.

Mission Waco organizes trips to Haiti, where volunteers dig water wells and build schools. They also trek to Mexico and India, hoping to improve the lives of the indigent and working poor, Dorrell said.

Calaway will shepherd these ministries, with guidance from Dorrell and a seasoned staff, and he relishes the opportunity, he said.

“I’m confident of what God has called me to do and where he has called me to be and I will be as obedient as I can to my calling,” he said. “I am fueled by people, meeting people, and serving alongside others.”

Calaway grew up in East Texas, received an undergraduate degree from Hardin-Simmons University, a Baptist school in Abilene, and worked for a time in Nepal as part of the International Mission Board. He happened to meet Josh Dorrell, one of the Dorrells’ four children, while in Thailand. Josh Dorrell advised him to visit Waco, look up his parents and get a feel for Mission Waco.

He did just that, and a bond began to form. Calaway said Dorrell would occasionally allow him to lecture Truett Seminary students on ministering to the poor. Calaway knew his audience, having received his Masters of Divinity Degree from Truett, where he took classes under Dorrell.

Before Dorrell recommended the Mission Waco governing board hire Calaway as executive director, Calaway served as mission leader at Austin Christian Fellowship, in Austin. The organization has about 2,500 members and about a $3 million mission budget, Dorrell said.

“I told him to love people, respect people, and to let them be a part of the solution,” Dorrell said of his advice to Calaway. “We believe in empowerment, first and foremost, at Mission Waco.”

Dorrell said he sought counsel from other faith-based nonprofit organizations that had gone through the process of replacing a director. He was told that giving the successor time to learn on the job, while serving as a mentor, would prove beneficial. Dorrell took that approach, bringing Calaway to Waco about nine months ago.

Church Under the Bridge, a creation of Dorrell’s that is separate from Mission Waco, will continue to meet each Sunday morning at Fourth Street under Interstate 35.

Dorrell said he will continue to preach there, and Calaway will attend services with his wife, Sarah, and their two young children.

“My life’s motto is, ‘Love people well,’ and that’s what I intend to do,” Calaway said.

Recommended for you