He led his life with purpose, according to family and friends who gathered Thursday night to celebrate the life of Nathan Stiles.
The popular high school senior died a few days short of his 18th birthday after collapsing during a Spring Hill varsity football game, but his father, Ron Stiles, said he believes Nathan’s death will ultimately serve to bring the word of God to young people.
Ron made statements to the media before a more than three hour ceremony at SHHS that honored Nathan’s life.
“We do not think the circumstances of his death were random,” he said his voice faltering slightly. “We think they have a purpose.”
Two area pastors, two of Nathan’s teachers and his basketball coach spoke lovingly and personally of Nathan’s relationship with God to a packed gymnasium of more than 2,000 people.
“The one great passion of Nathan’s life can become the great one passion of your life,” Joel Atwell, the pastor of Grace Community Church, said.
Paul Young, Spring Hill High School History Teacher and Fellowship of Christian Athletes sponsor, said it’s difficult to do justice to such a kid.
“Nathan would say, I believe: Love is contagious, and I got mine from Jesus.”
Known for his commitment to reading the Bible everyday, Ron told media Nathan’s faith was instrumental in forming his personality.
“He had a desire to share his joy,” Ron said. “Most important, he had a personal relationship with Jesus.”
It’s a commitment the family, through its recently established organization, The Nathan Project, hopes to pass on to others. And it started Thursday night.
A stack of 1,000 Bibles with sign-up sheets graced several back tables during the ceremony. Students were invited to take one, provided they made a commitment to attend Bible Study for one year.
That, the Stiles family hopes, will be Nathan’s lasting legacy.
Ron quoted John 6:29 where Jesus says, “The work of God is this – to believe the one He has sent.”
“Nathan’s life and death are accomplishing this,” Ron told media. “In this, we have deep joy.”
Christine Splichal, Spring Hill School District communications director, said the Stiles family had been instrumental in helping the students and the community cope with the loss.
Honestly, the family is inspiring all of us with their amazing strength and faith, Splichal said.
That may be why much of the ceremony was, in fact, celebratory. Students hugging and sharing smiles at fond memories seemed as common as tears during the event. The Spring Hill High Madrigals received a standing ovation led by the Stiles family. Near the event’s conclusion, a Christian rock band, of which Nathan was a founding member, helped celebrate Nathan’s homecoming in heaven with a song Nathan himself helped write.
“Now the field is empty; the enemy has fled. Night feels more like morning; the sting of death is dead. He worked while you were waiting; shattered nighttime, pain and fear. He broke through your breakdown, and brought you out of here,” the lyrics rang through the gymnasium.
Ron said losing Nathan was a challenge for the family.
“But we are overwhelmed with another reality,” Ron said. “Nathan was ready.”
He said the family holds no bitterness towards anyone in all matters that led to Nathan’s death.
“Please join us in praying that God’s intended purpose will be met in the life and death of our beloved son and brother, Nathan Stiles,” Ron said.
Those who received Bibles during the ceremony are asked to attend the first meeting of The Nathan Project at 7 p.m. at Grace Community Church in Spring Hill. Donations to The Nathan Project can be made care of Hillsdale Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 61, Hillsdale, KS 66036.
For more information about the project, search for The Nathan Project on Facebook.