Date: April 21, 2017
By Ralph Kurtenbach, Special to ASSIST News Service
SHELL, ECUADOR (ANS – April 21, 2017) -- After educating missionary children for five decades, the Ecuador-based Nate Saint Memorial School (NSMS) is due to close with the end of the 2016-2017 school year.
“We are thankful for the 51 years that it has served the missionary population,” said the school board’s president, Renee Fogg, in a March 7 recommendation to the managers of Reach Beyond’s Latin America Region. “The Lord has been very faithful.” The board cited as rationale for the closing, a continual decline in enrollments.
Their recommendation was accepted and formalized by Dan Shedd, the region’s executive director, who observed that “even with the CHILI (Community Health Intercultural Learning Initiative) program [in Shell, Ecuador], we don’t necessarily see a huge influx of families with young children coming in.”
Adding to Shedd’s comment, missionary Hermann Schirmacher said that “some -- or more -- missionaries do homeschooling now.”
A dozen students currently attend the school, including two in high school, six in middle school and four in elementary. Two of them are children of Renee Fogg and her husband, Eric, of the mission’s community development office in Shell.
The enrollment number compares with 15 students a year earlier. In the last few years, school attendance was in the 20s, including 29 students in 2012-2013, which was the year that Reach Beyond closed its Shell hospital after five decades of operation. The NSMS 2017-2018 projected enrollment was three full-time students, according to Fogg.
Both the school and the hospital had been envisioned in the 1950s by Nate Saint. In fact, before his death in 1956, he had helped in constructing the Epp Memorial Hospital, later called Hospital Vozandes del Oriente or HVO.
Of NSMS’s origins, Nate Saint has been quoted as saying the dream sprang from “purely a question of having children at home in their tender years” while their missionary parents served in Shell and the neighboring Amazon rain forest of Ecuador.
When piloting a plane above Ecuador’s rain forest, he could execute a series of pylon turns in the air as a bucket extended on a rope found a place calm enough for those below to reach into it for the contents.
The recipients were the then-uncontacted Waorani of the Amazon region, known by a pejorative term, “Auca,” which means “savage.” in the Quichua language. Through gift drops and later outreach, Saint was central to facilitating the first contact to be made between the Waorani and Protestant missionaries.
Shedd characterizes as unrelated to the NSMS decision, the fact that Reach Beyond was already negotiating a transfer of the school’s property to CENTA, an Ecuadorian foundation formed by missionaries Chet and Katie Williams. CENTA will serve as a training and empowerment center for the tribal groups of Ecuador, including the Waorani. The school’s continuance was not contingent upon new property ownership, Shedd said.
In an internal memo to Reach Beyond staff, Shedd reiterated the thoughts of Fogg, giving thanks to the Lord for the NSMS teachers, board members and parents who have impacted the lives of hundreds of missionary children down through the years.
Teacher Jennifer Kendrick plans to move to Quito and begin teaching next fall at Alliance Academy International in Quito. As of this writing, the future plans of other staff the NSMS are not known.
Photo captions: 1) Missionary pilot Nate Saint (Photo used with permission of Mission Aviation Fellowship). 2) This crowd gathered at the Nate Saint Memorial School in Shell, Ecuador to commemorate 50 years of Christian education for missionary children. 3) Teacher Carolyn Wolfram (standing) and other missionary ladies in the Nate Saint Memorial School (NSMS) library peruse scrapbooks at the school’s 50th anniversary celebration in early 2016. Wolfram now teaches at Alliance Academy International in Quito, Ecuador. (Photo by Chad Irwin). 4) Missionaries Katie and Chet Williams. 5) Ralph Kurtenbach with his wife, Kathy.
About the writer: Ralph Kurtenbach and his wife, Kathy, have lived in Ecuador since 1992, where they minister with Reach Beyond. Ralph blogs at www.calloftheandes.wordpress.