In University Singers, the nearly 80-member BJU choir composed of only freshmen, it’s easy to be unnoticed, but two young men stand out.
Dr. Eliezer Yanson, the director of the University Singers, said the testimonies of these two men, Josh Powell and Jonathan Fraga, have been a great blessing to him.
Powell, a Christian ministries major, said he was born with mild cerebral palsy, a disease that affects the muscles. He said his muscles were never fully developed, but after a lot of speech therapy when he was younger, most people wouldn’t even be able to notice that he has cerebral palsy now.
But Powell quickly found that he could overcome his disability to minister through something he loves: singing.
When he arrived at BJU last semester, Powell wanted to sing in a university choir and soon joined University Singers.
Fraga, a voice performance major, joined USingers this year as well. Fraga loves music and how it flows and speaks to his heart. He said he started playing the piano when he was 6 years old and later began voice lessons when he was a senior in high school. When he was a sophomore in high school, Fraga said he felt led to become a music major. “I felt that was what God gifted me with,” he said.
But God also gave Fraga something else — complete deafness in one ear.
“I don’t know what it feels like to hear in surround sound,” he said.
Yanson said he couldn’t believe it when Fraga first told him he was partially deaf because he sings so well. But Yanson said he’s noticed that despite Fraga’s and Powell’s disabilities, they both are always positive.
“It’s not a hindrance for them to still be involved in singing,” he said. “Both are wonderfully gifted singers.”
Both Fraga and Powell said they love how USingers has such a close-family atmosphere. They also love how Dr. Yanson works with and genuinely cares about his singers.
Yanson shows his care for his students outside the choir room as well. Often, he tries to have lunch with students. “My goal is to know them and how I can minister to them effectively,” Yanson said.
Over the past semester, Yanson and Powell have developed a relationship centered greatly on prayer. “Josh is what I call my prayer warrior,” Yanson said. “He always comes up to me asking if I have any prayer requests.” In turn, Yanson said he asks what prayer requests Josh has, and sometimes they pray together about them.
Yanson said he’s blessed by how Powell constantly relies on God’s strength.
According to Powell, though, it hasn’t always been that way.
Powell first came to BJU in 2004 but soon realized he was not ready for college. He said he tried to do everything in his own strength, which did not work at all, and he left BJU at the end of that year. It wasn’t until the Fall 2013 semester that God allowed Powell to come back to BJU. And Powell said he was much more prepared this time.
“The main thing is finding that you are not prepared through yourself but through Christ,” Powell said.
Yanson has also developed a relationship with Fraga, who is the vice president of USingers. Recently, when Yanson and Fraga went to lunch together, Fraga shared what God has been teaching him lately.
“Last semester I wasn’t in tune to reading the Bible and praying every day,” Fraga said. But now he’s learning when he is in God’s Word and praying, he can forget the stress of school and realize God is there for him all the time.
According to Fraga, although sometimes his deaf ear creates stress because people think he’ll be socially awkward, he feels it actually makes him stronger.
He said he believes God gave him a deaf ear as an opportunity to effectively minister to other people with the same disability.
Like Fraga, Powell said he also has been learning how he can minister through his disability. After listening to Patch the Pirate and hearing the story of how Ron Hamilton used his disability — the loss of an eye — to minister to others, Powell realized he could use his disability in the same way.
One opportunity he has had is singing the National Anthem at Special Olympics where he has competed and volunteered.
Powell said he also desires to have a unique ministry in the future right here in Greenville. He said he wants to create a professional choir, like the Georgia Boy Choir, for people with intellectual disabilities.
“Because of what I’ve seen in my own life, especially with how God has turned my disability into an ability for personal ministry, I know what other people with intellectual disabilities can do,” Powell said. “And I want people to see that.”
Fraga said a lot of people ask him why he chose to be a voice major, and he always responds by telling them that anyone can do anything, especially with God’s help. He wants to tell everyone who has a disability not to be discouraged because God is always there for them. “God doesn’t give us anything more than we are able to handle,” he said.
After weighing all the trials in his life, such as being partially deaf, against all the blessings God has given him, Fraga said, “I just can’t look at being deaf in one ear as a handicap.”