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The more he learned English, the more he understood faith

DEL CITY, Okla. (BP)–The violin has always been a constant for William Khanagov. Music knows no language.

Young William began taking violin lessons in his Russian hometown of Baku, Azerbajan, when he was 5. By the time his family moved to the United States, when William was 11, he was already an accomplished musician. He immediately began playing in the orchestra at First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., which had sponsored his family as refugees.

The long-simmering ethnic conflict between Azerbajans and Armenians prompted the Khanagov family’s decision to leave their homeland. Although his Armenian family members had not suffered persecution, they knew it would probably just be a matter of time before they would be involved.

They heard the American embassy was accepting applications for refugee status and moved to Moscow to apply for the program. It was a two-year process before the Khanagovs were approved and a U.S. sponsor was found for the family.

Under rules of the refugee program, the government finances the family for eight months while members find work to support themselves.

“We had never heard of Oklahoma before we arrived in Del City,” William said.

Members of First Southern met William, his parents, grandfather and younger brother at the airport. The family stayed with associate pastor Wilson Beardsley and his wife for a couple of weeks while settling in.

In Russia, William’s dad played in a band and coached a singing group. Here he became a violin and piano teacher.

William said he occasionally attended an Orthodox church with his mother while they lived in Russia, but “we went in, lighted a candle and sat there and watched the candle burn,” he said. “That was about it.”

Because First Southern sponsored the Khanagovs, the family members were in church the first Sunday they were in the United States.

“I remember when we were taken through the church to see the facilities,” William said. “It was so big, I was exhausted.”

While William played in the orchestra, he said he listened intently to pastor Tom Elliff’s sermons.

“But my English was such that I didn’t understand a lot of what he was saying,” William confessed.

He said he had about a year of English while living in Baku, and because Moscow schools are a year behind, he had the same English course during the time he lived in the Russian capital.

“When I came to the U.S., I had about nine weeks of sixth grade left,” William said. “I studied with an English teacher one-on-one, and by seventh grade, I was in school full-term, but was excused from reading because I was really slow at it.”

As William’s English became more proficient, Elliff’s sermons began to touch his heart.

“Little by little, I figured out what the pastor was talking about,” he said. “I realized I was a sinner and needed Jesus.”

He said Beardsley came by his house one day and explained some things he didn’t understand.

“That’s when I received Christ,” William said.

William is now a senior at the University of Oklahoma, where he is majoring in violin performance.

“I’ve always played the violin, and assumed that’s what I would do with my life,” William said. “But one of my closest friends challenged me, and said I could do whatever I wanted to do.”

William admitted he had never asked God for direction in his career, because he always thought he would be a professional musician.

One day, as he was reading the Bible, he said God gave him a word from scripture: Psalm 137:5-6, which reads, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.”

“I read that right before a violin lesson,” William said. “And that day my teacher told me I had one of the best right hands in class. I immediately thought of that verse, and thought perhaps God wants me to do praise and worship with my violin.”

Another thing that made William think he might not want to be a professional musician is the time he spent working with the Oklahoma Philharmonic.

“I saw attitudes there that make me not want to be a professional secular musician,” he commented.

William said he has thought about starting a music school for children and perhaps adults. He is also considering fulltime church work.

Although he doesn’t consider himself a singer, he was part of the praise team at Oklahoma’s Falls Creek Baptist Assembly last summer. He has played in the Oklahoma Baptist Symphony and been part of a violin quartet that performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

William said he is fortunate to be a part of a church where he sees examples of great praise and worship music.

“I know our minister of music gets a word from God. The music is always refreshing and appropriate.”

Wherever God leads, William Khanagov will be likewise with his violin and the international language of music.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo title: WILLIAM KHANAGOV.

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  • Dana Williamson