By Ralph Kurtenbach, Special to ASSIST News Service
SHELL, ECUADOR (ANS – June 28 2017) –Near the shelves of library books at Nate Saint Memorial School (NSMS), a closing chapter was written when the school shut down this month after 51 years of educating children of missionaries.
“It’s sad to think about NSMS closing because there is so much about this school that I’ve liked, but we must look on to the future,” said Erik Umble, 13. One of 12 students at the school, he and three others prepared and gave speeches at a final awards ceremony on Tuesday, June 6.
Umble, the son of one of the teachers at the school in Shell, Ecuador, said God had placed the students there for a reason. He then admonished them, “I want to encourage all of you to trust that God is in control of your future, and He has the best plan for you.”
“The first day that I came to Nate Saint my only friend was Erik and I was so nervous—I was literally shaking,” said Joshua Fogg, 14. “When I entered the classroom, everyone was staring at me, and I had to say my name and where I was from. That was the scariest moment in my life. Now, I barge into the room laughing and having fun.”
A comfortable teacher/student ratio facilitated an innovative and creative learning environment. Erik’s father, Randy, taught at NSMS for 15 years. Skyler Williams, 12, recounted how Mr. Umble once showed up in history class as a character named Shem Peachey.
“We ate hardtack and drank coffee, and then you put on some Civil War tunes,” Williams recalled. Then addressing Umble he continued, “You started to dance around and finally got up on a chair! You didn’t see the fan [and] it almost smacked your head.”
Apparently the overhead classroom fan gained a reputation. Fogg began his talk with a few “remember whens,” asking folks if they remembered “the time on that peaceful afternoon when Ms. Kujawa was eaten by the savage fan?”
School field trips took students to places as close as the neighboring Nate Saint home, which for some reason has a trench nearby, illustrating what they were learning about World War 1 trenches. Students and staff also traveled to a zoo in the town of Baños and to Topo for swimming in cold river water and other fun.
The school’s closing was announced in March, with declining enrollments cited as a decisive factor. More than five decades earlier, classes began for children of missionaries in a Shell home in 1963. The school was later named to honor a martyred missionary pilot, Nate Saint. Its sole teacher at the time, Liz (Kimmer) Kirby, says that even with some parental help, she “hardly relaxed when I had to be everything.”
Several teachers, students, and a board member responded to emailed interview questions on their involvement with the school and thoughts afterwards. Reach Beyond’s Chuck Howard—whose grandson is Erik Umble—served on the NSMS board from 1975 to 1981, later moving to Ecuador’s capital city for mission administrative work and later teaching.
“When I taught at the Alliance Academy International (AAI) here in Quito,” Howard wrote, “I could always tell who the students were who came from the NSMS. They were always excellent, well-behaved students, and they often came to class without shoes on! The NSMS emphasized a strong integrated approach to academics and commitment to the lordship of Jesus Christ.”
Another alumnus, Chris Dow, wrote of the missionary kids’ school as “where I first was exposed to BASIC programming language, a robot circuit game and Lemonade Stand [a business simulation game created in 1973].”
Dow was drawn to computer languages and now has degrees in computer engineering and software engineering. “My only regret is that I did not get to show the school to my daughters before it has closed,” he wrote. “I am forever grateful to the teachers who put up with me and my brother and taught/demonstrated what it was to put others first and love God.”
“The thing I remember most about NSMS is that I always felt loved—by my teachers, (usually) by my classmates, even by my friends’ parents and other adults in the community,” wrote Sarah (Parker) Rubio, who now works as an editor at Tyndale House Publishers in Illinois. “I’m sure that has contributed to who I am in ways that I’m not consciously aware of.”
The school’s final event was marked by Bible recitation (Psalm 145), music performances and talks. Board president Renee Fogg (Joshua’s mother) exhorted the students to represent Christ wherever they might find themselves for the coming school year. “You cannot become a missionary,” she said. “If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior then you are a missionary.”
Fogg went on to say that the Shell community of evangelicals frequently sends Christian workers elsewhere in the world. She cited one recent example when her husband, Eric, and others from the Reach Beyond community development team commissioned four people from a program known as CHILI (Community Health Intercultural Learning Initiative) for work after training in Shell. “We are sending you all [students] out from Shell—some to the U.S., some to other cities in Ecuador, and some outside your front door to your neighbors.”
Fogg told her listeners their job is to demonstrate Christ’s love to those around them, giving them an opportunity to also place their hope in Jesus for their salvation. She gave everyone who attended a key fob with a map on the front and a portion of a verse from the New Testament on the back. It reads, “Therefore go into all the world … NSMS 2017.”
Note: Nate Saint was an Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) Christian missionary pilot to Ecuador who, along with four others, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian, was killed on January 8, 1956 while attempting to evangelize the Huaorani people through efforts known as Operation Auca.
Photo captions: 1) Missionary pilot Nate Saint (Photo used with permission of Mission Aviation Fellowship). 2) Students with Miss Lauren Hazlett near the Nate Saint home in Shell. L-R: Erik Umble, Joshua Isbell, Natalie Umble, Skyler Williams, Olivia Irwin, Jacoby Thompson, Joshua Fogg, Lauren Hayes. 3) Katie Umble, Joshua Fogg and others directed by Randy Umble. 4) School Principal Beth Patton Montero and Renee Fogg share an emotional moment at a final ceremony of Nate Saint Memorial School. 5) A rainforest reality: Termite droppings amid shelved library books in Shell, Ecuador. 6) Commemorative key fob handed out to attendees at NSMS’s final event. 7) Ralph Kurtenbach with his wife, Kathy.
About the writer: Ralph writes for Reach Beyond and helps to mentor Latinos who want to join in taking the gospel to other parts of the world. His articles appear on the mission’s homepage (www.reachbeyond.org) and at www.calloftheandes.wordpress.com. Ralph and his wife, Kathy, have four children. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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