By Ryan Kryska
Don’t try to walk a day in Raymond Carawan’s shoes. He doesn’t want you to. God has challenged this Grand Canyon University online student with a variety of disabilities, but Carawan embraces his ailments. He says they’re his fight and his alone.
“I wouldn’t have the strength I do if anything were different,” he said. “It frustrates me when people want to pray to my face for healing because I’ve told people over and over we live in too much of an ablest society. It is not always God’s will for you to be physically healed. Paul and Timothy had their ailments, yet they healed people.
“In our weaknesses, His glory is revealed.”
Carawan, 28, is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Christian Studies. He one day hopes to be a pastor for people with disabilities. He has undergone at least one surgery a year since age 20. Most years, he has been put through multiple procedures, including two on his brain and surgeries on his back, neck, shoulder and, most recently, hip. He has Asperger’s syndrome, a growth hormone defect called acromegaly (commonly known as gigantism), neurofibroma tumors, a skin condition, growth defects and emotional scars from abuse. He also has battled cancer and has not been officially cleared.
But none of that defines Carawan, who says he has read the Bible cover to cover more times than he can count. His learning at GCU simply has taken his passion for Christ to another level.
“It definitely gives me an additional reason to wake up in the morning,” Carawan said of attending GCU. “On one hand, I always knew He would place me here, but on the other, the years and years of surgeries and not being able to get into school started to lead to a confliction where you kind of had doubts but kind of had faith at the same time. The way I look at it is even though I still have a lot of hurdles to overcome, it’s an extreme divine miracle.”
Beth Jamison, GCU’s Director of Student Disability Services, said accommodations are made for both ground and online students with disabilities. But she says the online program has been the most used medium.
“One of the biggest attributes that GCU has is we’ve worked very, very hard for many years to make the online program accessible,” Jamison said. “Online becomes a great tool for people with disabilities. Sometimes they just need a little flexibility. One day I might be feeling really great and the next I might not be doing great.”
In 2014, the University adopted accessibility standards to make online learning work for anyone who needed assistance. All videos began to use closed-captioning and read-aloud functions, and supplemental items such as interactive e-books are available to all students.
“A lot of those things are offered even without disability services,” Jamison said. “Flexibility is key.”
As a kid, Carawan was removed from the abuse of his biological family, only to be shuffled through foster care and then finally placed with a family that treated him no better than the last family. But somewhere along the way, he met at least one family that introduced him to the Lord.
“I remember the first place that I really saw any love in the world. And they introduced me to Christ,” he said. “Granted, I was too young to understand my own sin and why I needed to be saved from my own sin, but I saw enough to learn the world was wicked and full of challenges. And I saw with the Lord the exact opposite of that.
“Nobody raised me but God’s word.”
At 18, Carawan left home, boarded a Greyhound bus and ended up working for a carnival. He set up rides and said he prayed to the Lord that his beaten shoulders and back wouldn’t give out.
Sometimes they did. But what never gave way was his faith.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of work experiences,” Carawan said. “It is what it is, and these trials and tribulations definitely have been a constant grind.”
Carawan now lives by himself in a small town in Wisconsin. He doesn’t walk as well as he used to, so he uses a wheelchair to get around. He spends his time studying for his GCU coursework but also has a passion for writing, which emerged as a way to share what was on his mind.
In seventh grade, a special form of writing crossed his path – poetry.
“Something will just hit me and I’ll just sit down and write a poem within a matter of minutes,” he said. “I started using that as a way to relate to some friends of mine, to put myself in position to use my voice in a way that I couldn’t at that time.”
Carawan took his poetry a step further with the help of one of his closest friends, who told him he needed to step outside his comfort zone and offered him $50 if he shared his work with three people. Six years later, his Facebook group has more than 800 members.
“Initially, I had told myself I’d be happy if it reached 50 people and impacted their lives,” Carawan said. “One of my biggest hopes is to actually get some of my work published. I just don’t have the finances to self-publish — it’s just something that’s a little foreign to me.”
Carawan wants to pursue an education beyond a bachelor’s degree and said he would like to spend some of his future studies on campus so he can get involved in student groups.
But overall, he just wants to help people. He views disability ministry as something that’s needed to keep others motivated.
“The reality is there are so many of us not only fighting for our lives but fighting for the greatest sense of normality we can find. Society needs to help make it less of a grind to benefit everybody,” he said. “Just the fact that I’m in school and God has created this (GCU) family for me … I know there’s a lot more that the Lord has in store for me, but this is the thing I’ve wanted all my life and now I have it. It’s very intriguing to see what is next.”
Contact Ryan Kryska at (602) 639-8415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
GCU Today: Online nursing student earns Daisy Award
GCU Magazine: GCU: Voice of authority in online education