On the night he died, Nathan Stiles’ parents came home to find their son’s imprint on the couch from where he’d sat that morning reading his Bible. Now his Pastor and family hope Nathan’s life will leave the imprint of a relationship with Jesus on his peers through the Nathan Project.
Nathan, a Spring Hill High School senior, died early Oct. 29 following a football game against Osawatomie High School the night before. He collapsed during the game and was taken by life flight to the University of Kansas Medical Center where he later died.
“What we really want to do – his parents – through his memorial to honor him, we’re going to collect money towards buying young people a Bible, a student Bible, and to sign a commitment to join a Bible study throughout the year,” said Laurie Johnston, pastor at Hillsdale Presbyterian Church.
Nathan attended Johnston’s church from the time he was 9 years old. He usually sat in the front row, sang in the church choir and rarely missed a Sunday. Johnston hosted Nathan and several other students one night a week for a Bible study at her home.
The Nathan Project, Johnston said, comes from Nathan’s heart.
“It really does,” she said. “He was a very popular kid, but the one thing he was very concerned about was his peers and how lost many of them were. He was very concerned.”
Johnston, who has spent considerable time with the Stiles family since Nathan died last week, said family members have never been angry about the events that lead to Nathan’s death.
Officials have yet to release a cause of death, but Nathan collapsed on the football field last Thursday night. He had suffered a concussion a few weeks prior.
“I’m sure something may come out later about making sure that when you get a concussion, you don’t go back out and play for 90 days or something,” Johnston said. “The bigger concern is how are we going to honor Nathan and help other kids find God?”
Nathan never regained consciousness after falling on the sidelines Thursday night.
“That was it. There is an urgency to get your life right, because you never know when you’re going to have that last chance,” Johnston said.
Nathan was an A-student, captain of the football team and was recently elected Homecoming king at Spring Hill High School.
“Kids want to see and be and have what Nathan had,” Johnston said.
They can find much of it, Johnston said, in the Bible. Nathan read it everyday.
“Nathan wanted people to know that the Bible is the guide – the map to a happy life,” she said. “He was a real witness – not only to the young people and the kids around him, but to the adults. He just wanted (his peers) to know that as a Christian, you can have a fulfilled life, a happy life while you’re following what God wants for you.”
So, to honor his memory, Johnston said, the Nathan Project will give Bibles to students and ask them to sign a commitment to read the Bible and attend a Bible study for one year.
The Bibles the organization plans to pass out aren’t small pocket Bibles, Johnston said. They’re student-life application Bibles.
“They’re really nice Bibles that you can study,” Johnston said.
The organization plans to meet with area ministers soon to set up several youth Bible studies in connection with The Nathan Project.
The organization is already preparing to hand out 1,000 Bibles during Celebration of Life services on Thursday night.
“We’re going to be ready and really just truly work with local churches to get kids to know the word of God in memory of Nathan,” Johnston said.
Grace Community Church hosted a gathering last Friday night so students and community members could grieve together, and Johnston said area pastors asked kids to go to church the following Sunday.
“These kids were like the harvest was ripened,” she said. “We had 50-plus kids coming to church on Sunday. We had an altar call and these kids came down on their knees. Now they’re calling us, and they’re wanting to talk to us.”
For now, the focus will be on Spring Hill students, but Johnston said The Nathan Project hopes to expand. At first, to include students from Osawatomie, the school the Broncos played the night Nathan collapsed.
Already, the Stiles family has reached out to some of the OHS players who worried their plays may have contributed to Nathan’s death. Johnston said Ron, Nathan’s father, called the players and told them they shouldn’t feel that way.
Eventually, Johnston said, The Nathan Project could become a national program.
“Once we get all the pastors together, and we get our mission and purpose defined, we would like to make it a national thing if we can,” she said. “Because of the traumatic thing, it is a national story.”
Johnston said in leiu of flowers, the family requests donations to The Nathan Project. All contributions will be used to purchase Bibles for students.
Donations can be made through the Hillsdale Presbyterian Church. Johnston said checks can written to the church, and the memo line should read “The Nathan Project.”
A Celebration of Life service for Nathan will start at 7 p.m. on Nov. 4 at Spring Hill High School.