Annual prayer walk connects Waco community

Volunteers continues the 1.2 mile walk through Waco, with stops at seven local homeless shelters. The group took time to meet and pray at each shelter. The event was hosted by Mission Waco, but included participants from all over the Waco community. Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Joy Moton | Reporter

Mission Waco’s 11th annual Walk for the Homeless took place at 8 a.m. Sunday. The event comprised a 1.2 mile walk with seven stops at local shelters. Seventy-one people received pairs of shoes purchased by various participants. At each stop, leaders discussed the role of the shelter and said a prayer.

Participants included people from Van Guard High School, McLennan Community College, Tarleton University, Upward Bound, University of Mary Hardin Baylor and Connally Student Council.

Laura Aguirra, a television journalist from France, also attended to film for her documentary on poverty simulation.

“We’re trying to find some ways to close the gap that is widening between the rich and poor,” Aguirra said.

The inspiration for this event came from tragedy. Twenty-two years ago, two homeless men left a service at Church Under the Bridge with nowhere to go. Since Waco did not have homeless shelters at the time, the men entered a condemned house on Clay Street to stay out of the cold. The candle they used to warm themselves turned over, and they burned to death.

“It was an overwhelming reality,” said Jimmy Dorrell, executive director of Mission Waco. “How do you go back and worship the next Sunday? How do we ignore the needs of the people in our community?”

The tragedy inspired Dorrell to create a homeless shelter in the Waco community. During the process of building the shelter, he was exposed to the stereotypes people have about the homeless.

“People think that homeless people are all single men on corners,” Dorrell said. “The stereotype is part of the problem.”

The walk was designed to expose people to the reality that the homeless are not a group of marginalized people.

“It’s not for the homeless, but it’s an advocacy for the homeless,” said Allen Bryant, a former homeless man from Mildred. “This walk is more of an educational prayer walk.”

Bryant is a witness to the fact that virtually anyone can become homeless. He was man with a job until a terrible tragedy occurred.

“In August of 2001, my only child, a 10-year-old little girl, was abducted, raped and murdered,” Bryant said. “I lost it.”

Bryant found out that his daughter’s murderer was someone he had known since he was a child. He dealt with his grief by turning to drugs and alcohol. After he lost his job and his home, he spent three years living on the streets.

“Through the church and the ministry here, not only am I back, I’m working two full-time jobs,” Bryant said.

One of his jobs is at the shelter where he was once a resident.

The Walk for the Homeless event was emotional and educational for participants. Isaac Lingle, a freshman from University of Mary Hardin Baylor, learned a new meaning for the word “affluent.”

“I always heard of it used for like rich people or whatever, but it hit me hard that the rest of the world considers the average American affluent and that we should be doing more, but we don’t,” Lingle said.

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Jimmy Dorrell, executive director, president and co-founder of Mission Waco leads the Walk for the Homeless. At Caritas, the group holds a small devotional before moving to the next stop. Photo credit: Liesje Powers

The walk influenced the perspectives of students who attended the event for community service.

“At first, I did see it as a requirement, but now I’m so glad and so thankful that I was able to have this opportunity to come here, not only to walk, but also to discover Mission Waco more and learn more about its purpose,” said Houston sophomore Vivian Tran.

The function also inspired participants to do what they can to make a change.

“I think it’s important to try and help them as much as possible but also to get a better understanding of what it is they’re going through and how we can help in any way possible,” said Monica Rubio, a student at McLennan Community College.

Overall, the Walk for the Homeless added a step toward raising awareness of homelessness all over the world as well as locally.

“We love and admire Jimmy Dorrell,” said former Baylor President Ken Starr, who was also in attendance. “He’s an inspiration; he is what Baylor is all about at its very best.”