A School for Stella
One community’s story of healing through service
The motivations behind each mission group that partners with Maranatha are diverse. For one recent group, the project was almost therapeutic: The gift of their labor served to honor the memory of a very special person. Somehow God tended their broken hearts with tools of block, sweat, mortar, and prayers.
For the last two years, the Wilkie family (pictured above) has been on a journey of recovery. Bryce and Kathy Wilkie are the loving parents of four children. In 2011 two of their children, Stella, 8, (far right) and Ivan, 6, became ill with what was later found to be a quick-moving mosquito-borne disease called La Crosse Encephalitis. The disease moved very quickly, putting both children in the hospital as their parents and church family prayed long and hard.
Fatalities from the disease are very rare, yet the family of six had two beloved children in the hospital fighting for their lives. Tragically, little Stella died just one week after the onset. Younger brother Ivan went on to recover fully.
After Stella passed away, the Wilkie family received hundreds of cards, and many contained money. The family paid their medical bills, held a funeral, and took a little time off of work to grieve. But they still had money leftover. ‘It felt like God saying that He is in control, even though we don’t understand why things happened the way they did,’ says Bryce. The family thought and prayed about what to do with the extra funds.
Maranatha’s One-Day School sponsorship program seemed like a good fit for a memorial gift, and they found they could sponsor a classroom with the funds. It felt like the right thing to do. ‘It will go toward bringing kids to Jesus,’ says Bryce with a crack in his voice. ‘It couldn’t be more fitting for Stella.’
Sharing Jesus came naturally to Stella. When friends and family describe Stella they call her ‘sunshine.’ She often drew pictures or wrote notes for people, and signed them, ‘God loves you and so do I.’
Stella had a big impact on the people around her. So when David Wright, pastor at the Hendersonville Adventist Church, heard about the Wilkie’s plan, he pulled Bryce aside to ask if it would be okay for the church to take on a mission project at the location—to actually build Stella’s classroom. What developed is what Bryce describes as a ‘true mission trip.’ Church members, family, friends, and coworkers came together in Stella’s honor to work on the school campus in Ambato, Ecuador.
Before they began building, Bryce visited the current school in Ambato, where students are crammed into an urban area with no grass or open space at all. He describes students standing in the small concrete space between two tall buildings and staring up at the sliver of sky.
In contrast, the new campus in Ambato is being built on a gentle hill, with a view of the mountains ‘It is where their school needs to be. I just feel blessed to have been a part of it,’ says Bryce.
The group of volunteers assembled on the new campus in February, 2013, and worked hard, with the memory of Stella written on their hearts and on their team t-shirts. They played and worked alongside local children, sharing some of Stella’s famous love and sunshine with them.
Volunteers closed their special time in Ambato with a communion service in Stella’s classroom. The open windows glowed with the light of many candles as the group shared and prayed together. It wasn’t a sad experience, according to volunteer Julia Bonney. They felt ‘a peace and a togetherness that made it easier to believe that good had come from tragedy.’