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Waco Café Serves Up Food and Fellowship

Image1 Kate Ross, Texas — The small blue-and-white Victorian on the corner may not look like much, but if you pass by at lunchtime, you’ll see a crowd stretching around the fence, waiting to get in. Drawn by the promise of quiet community and good food, local residents flock to the Gospel Café and the fellowship of the three women who run it—Sherry Castello, Marsha Martie, and Susan Cowley.

Castello and Cowley are members of CrossTies Ecumenical Church in Waco, TX, where Martie serves as pastor and co-founder. In 1988, Martie felt called to lead the church in beginning a community ministry in nearby Kate Ross.

“We felt a call to be engaged with the neighborhood," Castello explains, “but we knew how little we knew." One statistic that definitely stood out to them, however: Waco’s 28 percent poverty rate. When, during a neighborhood walk, the women happened upon a run-down house for sale, an idea began to form.

The trio envisioned creating a café where people of different economic classes would come together in a pay-if-you-can restaurant environment, allowing lower-income people to have the same meal and experience as others without feeling like they were receiving a handout.

The Gospel Café is now 15 years old, serving lunch three days a week—and more than 24,000 meals a year—whether or not customers can pay. The café’s daily operations are supported by donations from individuals, churches, and small firms, and about $200 a day from paying customers. Regular volunteers from CrossTies and other churches keep the café running by coming to cook and serve lunch.

The café even inspired a novel by Christian author Lisa Wingate, The Summer Kitchen, which was later named the book for this spring’s “One Book, One Waco” citywide reading program. The Summer Kitchen is not set in Waco but focuses on the themes of poverty, hunger, and community.

Gospel cafe outside The café has turned out to be a wonderful ministry opportunity because it allows those who have been more fortunate to connect with those who haven’t. The family-style seating also encourages people to foster personal connections. As a result, many people who met at the Gospel Café now help each other out by driving others on errands or accompanying new friends to medical appointments for support and help deciphering medical explanations.

 These personal interactions are the best thing the women could have envisioned when they began the cafe. The opportunity for visitors to become involved in other people’s lives has benefited everyone. “The café is a place for loving folks,” Castello says.

“We marvel about the people God has called to minister with us in unexpected capacities: a nurse practitioner who felt drawn to begin the free medical clinic, a psychologist who wanted to begin working at the café one afternoon a week, a woman eager to help us begin Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous groups,” wrote Costello and Martie in Baylor University’s Truett Journal of Church and Missions.

If you ever find yourself in Waco around lunchtime, just look for the Gospel Café on the corner of 10th and Cleveland—and know you’ll be welcome inside.

Katie Whitnah is a communications intern with Bread for the World.


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