The History of GCA
by Esther Vandiver
People often ask about the history of Grace Classical Academy—how it came into being. I used to think the story was easy to relate—amazing, but simple. But that was because I only told a small portion of it from my point of view. However, the story would be told differently by each of the people involved: each staff member, each board member, each student, each family member, each person or church who has been instrumental along the way. It would be told differently by those who had to learn that all of their ability was not enough to do the work God appointed for them and by those who discovered that all their inability was not enough to keep them from doing the job God called them to do. It would be told differently by those whose ministry has been encouragement and by those whose ministry has been helps and by those whose ministry has been admonition, bringing us back to a Godly direction when we started to slip. You see, GCA is made up of all of us, and God does His work in such a way that each part is necessary to the whole.
In the same way, we cannot point back to an exact date that God began planting the seed of vision for the school. I tend to think back to a desire within my own heart that began over twenty years ago to see a particular kind of Christian school born. Or I could remember some brave people who began a school in Ozark and laid a foundation for our understanding of Christian classical education. I could go back to God’s particular call to Lonnie to come before Him and learn His will for us at that time. But do you see, this is all from my point of view again.
It would make a great story (told from my perspective) if I could say that when the desire for a Christian school was born in me, I pursued that goal with great knowledge and forethought and refused to be denied until it came to pass after much blood, sweat, and tears. But that would not be the truth. You see, I did actually sit down and do several days’ worth of figuring with a paper and pencil once. After that, I explained to God what He would need to start a school. I told him the required time frame: at least one year of in-depth preparation before the school opened. And I told Him how much money would be needed up front: at least $200,000, so the school would get off to a solid footing financially. And if He would have answered my prayers as I asked them, I would have been proud of my preplanning and my power in prayer. God gives us the desires of our hearts when we serve Him, but He also allows us to go through the death of the vision, sometimes more than once. And what He wants to bring about, He brings about for His glory.
It is possible, however, for us to look back at the time the school actually opened. In the beginning of August, 2001, the year-round school where I taught closed suddenly. Some of the families approached us about beginning a similar school. Lonnie felt God was leading us to see what could be done. If we began a new school, we felt the latest we could begin was the day after Labor Day—and this was only three weeks away! A meeting was held with interested families. The only definite answer we received from that meeting was that a school was needed, but more questions were raised than answered. Was it God’s plan for Lonnie and I to be the ones who started the school? How many would be interested? Where could a facility be found in such short notice? How could we get a board and teaching staff functional in three weeks? Where would the money come from? What would be our philosophy of edu-cation and our guiding principles?
Parents with approximately 15 to 20 students from Kindergarten through the 8th grade indicated interest. At this point Lonnie and I shared some very definite convictions if indeed we were to be involved in starting a school. The first was that the school should seek to honor Christ in all aspects of its existence: in the finances, in the classroom, and in its growth and development. We wanted the school to be a witness to the community of faith as well as to the general community. In order to bring a witness of God’s faithfulness, we encouraged intercession for His provision instead of fundraising and begging, we would avoid debt, we would pray that God send the students and families who were to become a part of GCA. Our goal would be to minister faithfully to the students enrolled and not focus on or measure our success or failure by how many students were gained or lost. We would keep the class size small enough to allow the teacher to know each student and bring individual attention to each one. We would pray for teachers with a heart for God, for the age of student that they would be teaching, and for subjects which they taught. All subjects would be taught from a Christ-centered world view. We had the convictions, but, like Solomon, we felt like children who knew neither how to come in or to go out.
A commitment was made to begin a school. All of us who desired this beginning told God that if He actually supplied a board, teachers, curriculum, a building, and enough money for basic operation in three weeks, we would openly acknowledge that it was strictly by His grace! He did it all. In three weeks. A group of five men agreed to serve as the board, a group of teachers and one secretary agreed to join us (many of whom worked with no pay), we had all the necessary curriculum before school opened, and Jefferson Avenue Baptist Church made space available at a very reasonable rate. Therefore, as a constant reminder of His provision, we named the school Grace Classical Academy. We knew full well that the endeavor was in the hands of God. If He blessed and provided, it would thrive; if He did not, it would be one of those we-gave-it-our-best-shot experiences which worked another good of some kind. We were not sure of the outcome, but we were sure that God knew all things. Many of our circumstances—and even our goals—did not coincide with the prevailing wisdom about how to begin and run a private school. Man’s wisdom is good to seek, and reason is beneficial. But there are times God leads in ways that seem to go where man’s wisdom and reason are not enough. The school opened.
Each consequent school year has been miraculous–an absolutely incredible adventure. God has never failed to provide all that was needed: we have never been late with any payment, we have always had people willing to serve on the board, always had teachers and staff as we have needed them, always had an affordable facility and adequate equipment, always had a student body growing in God’s grace, and always had a wonderful group of supporting families and workers to make GCA possible. Time after time God has given miraculous direction and provision.
Have there been obstacles, struggles, and mistakes? Of course. Adventures are not adventures without these components. Is God growing us in love, faith, truth, and beauty? Most definitely. He is making it clearer and clearer to all of us how dependent we are on His strength. And He is enough. He is enough to weave the threads of our lives together to make an incredible tapestry that we will only be able to view completely later.
So where do we go from here? Remembering that God is not working to glorify GCA nor to lift any of us up for others to worship, the path is the same as it has always been. We are to walk humbly with God and one another, asking Him to lead us and enjoying the next step as we take it. If each of us takes the next step He shows us—or at least gets up after a fall to try again—we will be exactly where He would have us be in the years to come.
The Founders of Grace Classical Academy
Mr. Vandiver grew up on a dairy farm in Texas County near Houston, Missouri. He and Mrs. Vandiver met one another in the 6th grade when she moved to Houston. They got married the day after they graduated from high school and their first home was a chicken coop that had been renovated into a house.
They moved to Warrensburg, Missouri, the fall after they married to attend what is now Central Missouri State University. Mrs. Vandiver attended until two years later when they found out they were expecting their first child, and Mr. Vandiver continued studying elementary education. When he completed his studies, they moved to Raymondville, Missouri, where Mr. V taught math, science, and history in the junior high and coached basketball. During this time in their lives, Mr. and Mrs. Vandiver both felt touched by the Lord and called to go into pastoral ministry.
While raising their three children, Cheryl, Jim, and Jeanette, they served in pastorates in various ministries in Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri. Upon moving back to the Springfield, Missouri area they both attended Evangel University. Mrs. Vandiver studied social sciences and English. Mr. Vandiver finished his bachelor’s degree and did his master’s degree in pastoral counseling. They homeschooled their three teenagers, served in pastorates of a local church, and Mr. Vandiver worked as an insurance adjustor. In 1990 the Lord added six more children to their family through adoption.
Mrs. Vandiver learned about classical Christian education when she had the opportunity to teach at a local classical Christian school that is now closed. A few families from that school asked the Vandivers to start a school. Through the providential moving of the Lord, they were able to open Grace Classical Academy in 2001 with 19 students and eight grades. Mr. Vandiver shared that he fully expected the school to fail, but now he can clearly see that it was the Lord’s plan for this time. They like the classical Christian approach to education, because it applies II Peter 1:5-10 to the trivium and fits the natural development of children. They both enjoy being able to come alongside parents and partner in the education of children. Mr. and Mrs. Vandiver feel that every person connected with GCA is a story and a witness to Him and that it has been a blessing to be part of His plan at GCA.
The GCA community is so thankful that Mr. and Mrs. Vandiver listened and obeyed God’s calling on their lives to start GCA and pray that God use each of us to play the part He has for us as we continue to seek His will for the future of GCA.
On May 14, 2014, Mrs. Vandiver went home to be with the Lord after a battle with cancer. Before she passed away, she had one final message she wanted to leave the GCA community: “I do not choose to so lightly esteem my loving Father’s heart as to grumble at His will; rather, I glory that He has taken such pains to let me see so much beauty and goodness and has prepared me to enjoy eternity with Him!”
Mr. Vandiver resigned as administrator of GCA in the spring of 2015 with this prayer for GCA: “I pray for [God’s] blessings and guidance to rest on GCA, the board, administration, teachers, staff, students, and families, and all who support the school in prayers and resources. May the living God who birthed this school continue to flow through this place with His power, His grace, His truth, His goodness, and His beauty. May that which would hinder be bound and set aside and may that which would bless and enable be brought forth.”