Church family builds home for one of their own

Nancy Watling hugs Bart Tucker of Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders during the dedication on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, of a new house built in Jackson Couty for her by the disaster-relief group.
Nancy Watling hugs Bart Tucker of Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders during the dedication on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, of a new house built in Jackson Couty for her by the disaster-relief group. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com

Nancy Watling and her family gathered with scores of new friends outside their new house in the Virginia City neighborhood north of Ocean Springs on Friday afternoon. Two weeks ago, only a concrete slab was on this space. Now it is a three-bedroom, two-bath home built by familiar faces as well as strangers hundreds of miles away.

The house is a combined project of First Presbyterian Church of Ocean Springs’ Every Need Project and the Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders. Volunteers from First Presbyterian have worked for most of the past two weeks on the house.

One Sunday morning, in the house originally on that slab, Watling fell through the bathroom floor as she was getting ready for church . The Rev. Scott Castleman, the church’s senior pastor, overheard members urging each other to pray for her after the accident and it led him to look into setting up repairs for her house.

However, the house needed much more than expected. The foundation, floor, insulation and roof all were in bad condition.

“She needed more than just a floor,” Castleman said during the early part of the building project. “She needed a whole house.”

Friday afternoon, the new home was dedicated and Watling received the key. A few touches will be finished next week. Concrete will be laid for the driveway and sidewalk, floors will be installed over the weekend and the house will be furnished, but the building phase is complete. In fact, it was finished ahead of schedule. The components of the house’s frame were built in North Carolina and sent to Ocean Springs as panels, which helped speed construction.

About 230 people altogether were involved, said Bart Tucker, director of the ReBuilders, including workers, donors and those praying.

“Whatever you guys were praying for, it worked out pretty well,” he said.

The Fuller Center, based in Americus, Georgia, is an international Christian nonprofit that builds and renovates houses for families in need. The families work alongside volunteers on the construction and pay a small, affordable mortgage. For the Watling house, all of the materials and services, including electrical wiring and plumbing, were donated or provided by church members.

It was the first job for Every Need Project, an outreach program at First Presbyterian.

“Our church as been blessed through this process,” Associate Pastor Jon Tony said Friday, who noted Castleman, who could not be at the dedication, “was hoping this was a project for the church to be the church.”

Tears came to Watling’s eyes as she spoke. “It’s hard to explain the excitement in my heart right now.”

She recalled Bible verses and prayers the strangers who built the components in North Carolina had written on bare walls and door and window frames.

“It’s not just the people here,” she said. “Every 2-by-4, every wall in there” bears witness to the love expressed by those involved in the process, she said.

Later, as she was looking through the house, she was still amazing by the speed at which it was built. She was on the site every day “before everybody and after everybody.”

“This is my favorite room of all, the kitchen,” she said. “Isn’t it nice?”

Church member Barbara Delano is working with Watling to design the interior, which Delano said will feature grays and blues. Members D’Auby Schiel and Shirley Martin are among those who spearheaded the first project for Every Need and coordinated the process, even through Schiel’s quadruple-bypass surgery in late August, just as the old house was being demolished.

Representatives from the Fuller Center had stopped by Watling’s house after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and left her a card, Schiel said. More than 10 years later, when an inspection determined her old house was uninhabitable, she still had the card.

Tammy Smith: 228-896-2130, @Simmiefran1