Jackson County

Volunteers put faith into walls of Ocean Springs home

Karen Bruner staples material to a window frame before the window is placed on the future home of Nancy Watling on Monday afternoon. Bruner was participating in the Every Need Project of the First Presbyterian Church of Ocean Springs.
Karen Bruner staples material to a window frame before the window is placed on the future home of Nancy Watling on Monday afternoon. Bruner was participating in the Every Need Project of the First Presbyterian Church of Ocean Springs. ttisbell@sunherald.com

By 10:30 Monday morning, most exterior walls were up on a house where church volunteers were putting the words of the Bible to work.

Earlier a recently finished slab was the only thing the property. But by midmorning, about 40 volunteers were hammering, sawing and hauling as they worked on a house for a member of the congregation of First Presbyterian Church in Ocean Springs.

Every Need Project, an outreach program at First Presbyterian, teamed up with The Fuller Center Disaster ReBuilders to build the house.

The owner and her family previously had a house on the property. But one Sunday morning, the owner was getting out of the tub in preparation for church when she fell through the floor. When Rev. Scott Castleman, a senior pastor, heard members urging each other to pray for her after the accident, he saw a need to put faith into action. It turned out the foundation, floor, insulation and roof of the house were in bad condition.

“She needed more than just a floor,” he said. “She needed a whole house.”

The old house was demolished and the foundation poured well in advance of what will be a two-week project to complete a three-bedroom, two-bath home. The owner, Nancy Watling, will pay a small mortgage once she and her family move into their new home.

“That establishes ownership, some responsibility for the home,” Castleman said.

All of the materials and services, including electrical wiring and plumbing, were donated or provided by church members.

The verse on which Every Need Project is based is Acts 2:44-45: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

That verse was on T-shirts worn by church members and volunteers affiliated with The Fuller Center, which is based in Americus, Georgia.

The Center became well acquainted with the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bart Tucker, director of the ReBuilders, and teams were deployed Sept. 8 that year to East Biloxi to help restore homes. Over time, they expanded their focus to the west side of the Coast, including Bay St. Louis.

The components of the house’s frame were built in North Carolina and sent south to Ocean Springs as panels, which eased construction. The strangers who put the components together signed walls and frames with greetings such as “keeping your sweet family in our prayers,” “bless all who enter” and “God bless you and your house.”

“We have built 105 houses on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Tucker said. One hundred of those were after the storm, often with 12 to 14 houses being built at a given time, for low-income and uninsured people.

“We came back last year for the 10-year observance, and we did five houses then,” he said.

“All our folks fell in love with Biloxi,” Tucker said, then smiled. “We hadn’t met these folks from Ocean Springs yet, but there was this situation with a bridge,” he said, referring to when the bridge was out after the storm.

“This really is what the church is supposed to be,” Tucker added. “What we loved about Biloxi and Mississippi in general is that we came here to pour love into people but the people here poured love into us, and more.”

Tammy Smith: 228-896-2130, @Simmiefran1

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