In 1983 the five funerals in his first year of planting a church were too much.
Dr. Anthony Gordon, a young African American pastor, was weary and broken from burying teenaged boys from his community- casualties of gang and drug violence. He recognized that his Sunday morning and midweek services could not compete with the predatory forces devouring his community. The pervasive powers of the streets were competing for the hearts and minds of his youth, and the litany of funeral services were graphically demonstrating that they were winning the day.
He recognized the words of Jesus in Luke 6:39-40 that “blind guides lead the blind into ditches.” In his community these ditches were myriad: joblessness, illiteracy, addiction, fragmentation, death, meaninglessness and hopelessness. But Jesus also said in this text that a “student, when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.”
For Dr. Gordon this principle created a deep and gnawing realization and aroused a holy indignation. He realized that much of the struggle for his youth and their discipleship was simple math. If his church was able to influence the local youth for six to eight hours a week through his two services, the streets had them for unfathomable hours the rest of the week. Effectively discipling his young people was almost a mathematical impossibility. The blind guides of the gang, drug, and street culture had his young people most of the week.
But a school could flip those hours. Instead of six to eight hours he could expose his students to Christ, quality instruction, and discipleship for thirty-five to fifty hours a week. This was an epiphany that led to some bold and radical steps of faith.
But he was also driven by righteous indignation. The woes and travails of his community were well documented and well known throughout Birmingham. The Body of Christ was aware of these struggles but instead of mobilizing with compassion most of them revealed a disconcerting indifference. This baffled him. Why was there little to no response from the church? How could thousands of kids in the suburbs have access to a plethora of academic opportunities in quality public schools as well as private and parochial options while all of his youth were relegated either to faltering school systems or a landscape without options? This was an injustice that he could no longer overlook.
So in 1988 he used a dilapidated wing of his church to start Restoration Academy. No board. No budget. No blueprint. He just stepped out in obedience to a radical call. That first day of school 69 high school boys showed up – most of them in trouble with the local schools. The first decade of the school was characterized by tremendous struggle. Resources were meager. Funding was low. But the school limped onward fueled by the Lord’s strength and undettered.
Today, Dr. Gordon’s mustard seed of faith is blossoming into a tree. Today RA has 295 male and female students in grades K5 – 12th grade. There are 47 teachers, coaches and staff. Many of them live in the community. The students in their classrooms are their neighbors and they share life together.
It took one man and his church twenty-seven years ago as an instrument to rally over twenty-five churches from nine different denominations to rally around this mission today. The men and women in these churches help fund the mission and provide almost 100 volunteers who come to tutor and mentor almost every week. In a city with dire need of racial and socioeconomic reconciliation, RA is increasingly becoming a catalyst for these things to happen.
By God’s grace, the school offers incredible discipleship through rigorous academics, Bible study, sports, and the fine arts. RA is fully accredited. For the last nine years 100% of RA’s seniors have been admitted to college. Many of the graduates are exiting the school with the skills to succeed and the heart to impact their own community for Christ. Our greatest desire is that our students will experience the transformational power and grace of Jesus and have an unquenchable hunger to bring those things to the broken world around them.
Ben Sciacca serves as Executive Director of Restoration Academy in Birmingham, AL. He holds a masters degree from Covenant College and has been at the school for 15 years. One Twitter: @iamjudahben