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Jun 21, 2011

Mississippi Episcopalians Plan Rebuild of Family Home

Tornado St. Luke'sIn Mississippi, one community plans two-week blitz build to replace one family's home destroyed in an April tornado. Work begins Saturday, July 9 in Smithville, MS. Interested volunteers should email the Rev. Russ Oechsel, Archdeacon, at  Donors for this and ongoing tornado relief can donate here or make checks payable to the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. Write "MS/AL Tornado Relief" in the memo line and send to 1225 Texas Ave  Houston, TX 77002.


Below is a letter from the Rev. Paul Stephens, rector of All Saints, Tupelo, MS:


We have been touched by the suffering that Wade Morris and his family have endured these past months. (Wade is the nephew of the Rev. Judy Morris, associate at St. Peter’s by the Lake, Brandon, MS). Wade suffered severe burns to his hands, arms, chest and face in a grease fire which occurred several weeks before the tornado hit Smithville, MS. 


Because he had been laid off from his job and didn’t have health insurance when the accident occurred, Morris had to be separated from his family (pregnant wife Jennifer and two children) and taken to the burn center in Memphis for treatment. His treatment in Memphis was grueling and included multiple skin grafts. He was discharged about two weeks before the Smithville tornado hit so he could be home for the birth of his third child (a beautiful and healthy baby girl born 10 days before the tornado) provided he agreed to make at least two trips a week to Memphis for burn care and physical therapy. Those trips are anticipated to continue for several months into the future. The Morrises were at home in downtown Smithville when the tornado hit. 


That April afternoon, the house they were renting and all their possessions, including vehicles, were totally destroyed. Fortunately and providentially, Wade and his immediate family escaped injury. Since the tornado, Wade and his family first lived with family members and then in a hunting cabin in the woods. As I write this note, they are preparing to move into a FEMA trailer which has been located in downtown Smithville.


It was apparent that this family needed help. With support from numerous individuals they have been helped in many ways within and outside of the Episcopal Church since the tornado hit—gifts of clothing, food, and gas as well as pastoral care and spiritual support have been provided. More was needed, however. We determined that Wade and Jennifer and their three children needed a home they could call their own where Wade could complete his recovery. We began to dream of building them a home through the collaborative effort of multiple churches and Habitat for Humanity chapters.


Beginning Saturday, July 9, that dream will take a significant step toward becoming a reality. In collaboration with several Habitat for Humanity chapters, multiple churches in Smithville, Tupelo and the surrounding communities, and support from interested Episcopal churches in Mississippi and beyond, we will start a two week Habitat Blitz Build so that the Morris family will have a comfortable home they can call their own!


What began as a dream has suddenly gotten legs and is moving forward very rapidly:

  • A one acre tract of property just south of Smithville has been donated to Wade and Jennifer. Their new home will be constructed there.  
  • Episcopal Relief & Development has given its tentative verbal approval for a major grant that will cover approximately 30 percent of the costs of construction materials. Other financial assistance has been promised so that we anticipate that at least 65 percent of the costs of construction materials will be covered.  
  • St. Peter’s by the Sea, Gulfport, has graciously loaned us its construction trailer loaded with all kinds of construction tools. Those tools will enable us to build a beautiful and functional home for this family.  
  • The Northeast Mississippi Habitat for Humanity chapter, located in Tupelo, is taking the lead by supplying financial and other support, as well as supervision and planning for the construction project. Other Habitat chapters have also offered to assist.  
  • Several Episcopal parishes and missions in Mississippi have contacted us and told us they want to take part in the construction project [including the Diocese of Texas] 
  • Surveying, title work, utility hookup and other preliminary site and related work are underway. Access to and clearing of the home site has begun with construction of the foundation beginning soon.  


Everything will be ready for framing on Saturday, July 9 when together we begin to raise the roof of the new Morris Family Home. We want to complete construction of the home by Saturday, July 23 so the family can move in and get settled before school starts.


We need volunteers from across the diocese to help make this project happen. Everyone can take part: We need folks to help with the construction of the home. We need people to keep the construction folks fed and watered. We need people to run errands and to assist with offsite support. We need people to offer prayers. I'm sure we'll need help in ways that we've not even yet thought about!


All Saints’, Tupelo, will open its parish hall to anyone who wants to camp out there while helping with the construction project (it is about a forty minute drive from All Saints’ to the construction site). Our parish hall is large and comfortable. We also have a large, very functional commercial kitchen from which we can easily keep the construction army fed.


We’ll keep everyone in the loop with construction updates. Thanks in advance for your support and prayers!


Interested volunteers should contact the Rev. Russ Oechsel at  


Donors for this and ongoing tornado relief can donate here or make checks payable to the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. Write "MS/AL Tornado Relief" in the memo line and send to 1225 Texas Ave.  Houston, TX 77002.