Stones of Remembrance
by: Ben Sciacca, former Executive Director
In Joshua 4 God instructed His people to collect and stack twelve large stones to commemorate His miraculous provision for them crossing the Jordan and entering the Promised Land. For generations these stones were to provide meaning and to initiate conversations about the power and presence of God in the life of the Israelites.
As Restoration Academy completes 30 years of urban ministry, we too have accumulated stones of our own that symbolize the goodness and the gifts that God has provided for over three decades.
It all began with Dr. Anthony Gordon and five headstones in a cemetery that drove him to initiate a leap of faith. After witnessing the untimely deaths of five young men killed on the streets, he felt compelled to toss seeds into the stony ground of his Eastside neighborhood. With no board or budget, Restoration Academy was birthed out of the dilapidated wing of his church. Sixty-nine high school boys showed up in August of 1988 in search of safety, hope, and an education. Dr. Gordon’s seeds found roots in nearly impossible soil and the Lord produced the first frail shoots of life.
The school attracted some amazing faculty and staff with a deep-seated passion to shepherd children. Grossly underpaid and bereft of textbooks they showed up to give everything to their kids. With a meager revenue stream many of these initial staff went without pay for months at a time and yet they stuck around convinced that the calling on their lives to serve in this school was greater than their challenging circumstances.
In 1999, Restoration Academy had outgrown Dr. Gordon’s church and was now housed in another church on the same side of town. This church notified the fledgling ministry that they would have to move out at the end of the year. In a precarious place with no options RA was on the brink of shutting down. But then as only the Lord could do, a miracle was provided. Christ Church CEC notified Dr. Gordon that they could have the church parking lot if they were willing to move to Fairfield. This faith-filled move down I-20 would be the Jordan River moment that the school required in order to grow and thrive.
The Lord miraculously provided the exact funding for a down payment on materials, and a volunteer group from Aurora, Illinois to assist in constructing a facility in time for the students to start classes in the fall of ’99. The Lord afforded the school asylum and the supporting cast to continue operating without missing a beat.
In 1999 RA had around 125 students and 14 full-time staff. At that time the ministry was still vastly under-resourced. Curriculum was hard to afford. Teachers still struggled to find the books and tech they needed to teach effectively. Each day was a challenge as the instructors brought their few fishes and loaves to the classroom and trusted Jesus to multiply their efforts into something that could feed and edify the students. For years the school labored to advance students to the next grade and to help the seniors get their high school diplomas. In the midst of these challenges, students were arrested by the Spirit and gave their lives to Christ.
In 2005 the Lord provided the space and resources on a contiguous part of the block to build a new junior high and high school building with a gym. After 18 years of playing basketball games on the road this gym space became an amazing resource for both RA and the Fairfield community.
In 2007 RA finally achieved their accreditation with ACSI and the state of Alabama. During this time the Lord continued to attract more students, staff, board members and supporting hands. Since that time, and for the last 12 years, 100% of the seniors at RA have been admitted to college. The educational programs have improved, sports offerings have become more robust, and the means for effective discipleship have increased.
As we look back we are able to identify stones that the Lord has provided for over 30 years to make RA the flourishing ministry that it is today.,
Dr. Gordon’s initial hope was to create a refuge for young people. Little did he know that the school would eventually become both a launch pad and a magnet for a variety of “stones.”
Over the last 30 years, RA has scattered stones by sending our young people out into the world as agents of change. Through a robust education and intentional discipleship RA alumni are taking college campuses by storm. With a chiseled work ethic, strong character, and a love for Jesus many of them are making impacts on campuses around the country. Others are proudly serving our country in the armed forces or working hard in a variety of careers. Our hope and prayer is always that our alumni would continue to be pillars in the communities, colleges, and contexts where the Lord places them.
In addition, the Lord continues to accumulate additional stones for our ministry. Much like Nehemiah’s wall these individuals step up as financial supporters, board and jr. board members, volunteers, and mentors to create a strong foundation and a layer of protection for both our staff and our students. The ministry at RA has always been fragile and precarious, and it takes a host of individuals to help the ministry thrive. Amazingly, over the last several years, nearly 60% of urban, Christian schools like RA have closed due to financial strain and adversity. But God has had different plans for RA. A school that started with 69 high school boys now has nearly 340 boys and girls grades K5 through 12th grade. We are grateful for everyone that God has assembled and we pray that RA will continue to grow and glorify our Savior Jesus Christ.