Chip and Joanna Gaines Host Texas’ Church Under the Bridge for the Homeless

A woman wears a TROLL Church Under the Bridge hoodie as poor and homeless congregants participate in a service at Church Under the Bridge in Waco, Texas, on Nov. 18, 2018. RNS photo by Bobby Ross Jr.

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.”

Gaines offered the lawn of Magnolia Market at the Silos — the couple’s popular tourist destination, which drew an estimated 1.6 million visitors to Waco last year — as a temporary home for Church Under the Bridge.

The attraction, which is closed on Sundays, is about four blocks from the bridge.

“I’ve known about Jimmy and the way he’s been selflessly serving this community for a while, since back when I was in college,” Chip Gaines, a Baylor alumnus, told Religion News Service in an emailed statement. “A few months ago, I read about how the I-35 project would impact his church, so we reached out to discuss his options and ultimately, to see if there was a way we might be able to help.

“I’ve always admired Jimmy from afar, so when we both agreed that the location of the Silos made sense for Church Under the Bridge, I knew we wanted to be part of the solution for this congregation,” Gaines added.

Dorrell, who also teaches theology courses at nearby Baylor, the world’s largest Baptist university, said he has known Chip and Joanna Gaines since they were students. He said they’ve supported the church in the past.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service, Bobby Ross Jr.