Despite blindness, he had clarity of visionWhen the American evangelist Billy Graham came to Korea in 1973, he preached at a huge Yeouido plaza that has since become a park. Among the many Koreans who converted to Christianity after hearing his speech was Lee Jae-seo, who was 22 at the time.
He was also blind.
A fever that afflicted Mr. Lee in 1966 caused the Suncheon native to gradually lose his eyesight.
Once his vision began to deterioriate, he was unable to attend school with his friends. Desperate for help, he visited every hospital he could, but it was in vain. Distraught over his increasing blindness, he considered suicide.
The still-vivid memories of these long-ago days of despair inflict much psychological pain on Mr. Lee, 52, a professor of social work at Seoul’s Chongshin University.
“I could not believe I would never be able to gaze at the scenery of my hometown,” he says. “I was shocked. My family’s financial health also was hurt because we had to sell some rice paddies to cover the medical costs.”
After his religious conversion, Mr. Lee resolved to resume his academic studies but several institutions, including Christian ones, rejected him on account of his blindness. Only by begging and pleading with school officials did he clear the hurdle.
After being turned away at first, Mr. Lee finally gained admittance to Suncheon Religious High School in 1977, before proceeding to Chongshin University, also a religious institution. From Chongshin he went to the United States, studying at Temple and Rutgers universities, where he received a masters and a Ph.D. in social work, respectively.
Chongshin appointed him a professor of social work in 1995, and today he is also president of the World Association of Milal, a religious organization that helps the disabled. In this role, he visited North Korea in March and donated 100 wheelchairs.
While in the United States, he requested material on handicapped persons in North Korea from their Mission to the United Nations. “The reply I got was that there were no such people in the North due to superior medical technology. Since that we have come a long way.”
Urging people to help out the handicapped more, Mr. Lee points out during the last ten years of an average Korean’s 76-year lifespan, many become so sick to be classified as partially disabled.
by Ha Jae-sik
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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