"Dropbox" for Disabled Babies

Originally published by Bonfire Impact.

Pastor Lee Jong-rak, 57, of Jusarang Community Church in Seoul, South Korea is no stranger to late night callers. When he hears the bell ring, his heart drops and he rushes to the door.

Lee didn’t ask for visitors and he didn’t expect them either; they just started coming. They started coming on all days of the week and at all times of day. These visitors were babies left in Lee’s baby box, a warm bin lodged in the wall that allows mothers to deposit their children while maintaining anonymity, installed with a motion sensor and alarm. A sign above the box reads, “This is facility for the protection of life. If you can’t take care of your disabled babies, don’t throw them away or leave them on the street. Bring them here.”

Since the inception of the box in 2009, more than 600 children have been rescued. The idea of the box was born out of Lee’s son, Eun-man, meaning “full of God’s grace.” Eun-man, 28, lives Lee and his wife, Lee Chun-ja. Given months to live, he severe cerebral palsy and requires 24/7 attention and is completely dependent.

Lee developed a reputation as “love of the unlovable” within the hospital, known for his unceasing love for the “boy on his back.” He and his wife continued to care for Eun-man while their older daughter pursued medical school. A woman asked Lee to adopt her own disabled daughter, Sang-hee, and he did. He ended up adopting other orphans from the hospital. Then on a cold night, he found a disabled baby girl left on his doorstep in a cardboard box.

“The prejudice against disabled people is severe,” Lee said. “People neglect them. They find them repugnant. They don’t treat them with respect; they don’t treat them as human beings. If these children would have gone elsewhere, they would have died.”

Though the box has drawn criticism from people who believe that it encourages mothers to abandon their children, Kindred Image, a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization born from Lee Jong-rak’s cause, explains their goal.

“We exist to end child abandonment in South Korea and create a culture of life around the world,” their website states. “We must work towards a day when [baby boxes] are no longer necessary; when all human life is embraced for its inherent value and purpose.”

Lee prays that there will be a day that baby boxes are no longer needed and remains committed to his mission, despite disapproval from the government of South Korea.

“I’m glad they’ve come here. I’m so thankful I can help them,” Lee said. “They aren’t the unnecessary ones. God sent them here for a purpose.”

“The Drop Box” is a documentary feature that tells the story of a pastor in South Korea, who built "a mailbox" for abandoned babies. It's a film about the forgotten, the disabled, the discarded, and the man who gave everything to protect them.

Brian Ivie is the founder of Kindred Image and filmmaker who produced the “The Drop Box,” the film that brought Lee’s story to the big screen. Over a quarter million saw its theatrical release 728 theaters in the United States and in 68 theaters in Canada, March 3-5 (it will soon be available on DVD). The documentary feature won 10 awards.

Ivie, who converted to Christianity during filming, explained the movie as a story of hope and a reminder that “every human life is sacred and worthy of love.”

The team of six and a board of four of Kindred Image, with their model of prevention, intervention and restoration, partnered with Christian organizations, including Focus on the Family, Lee’s official ministry partner, and international family and orphan care foundations, including the Global Orphan Care Fund.

South Korea is not alone in its baby boxes. Boxes exist elsewhere, with more than 150 million
orphans worldwide. Kindred Image focuses on story-based awareness to change cultural consciousness and works towards long-term, holistic solutions, including counseling, care packages and adoption support. They strive to “restore the image of a God-given ‘kindred image.’”

“I can’t be here and not do anything about it, so we installed the baby box with God’s heart,” Lee said. “I made a vow to God: I will die for these babies.”

Lee is now the caretaker and father of Eun-man and several other disabled children. Due to high rate of “drop-offs,” he is no longer adopting. The babies left with him are taken to childcare centers. All monthly donations to Kindred Image are being matched up to $40,000.

You can watch the trailer, donate and follow their mission on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

"Thai This" Offers Authentic Food on Wheels

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Lifestyles.

Brian Lawson grew up in southwest Virginia and has a history in the restaurant business.

In 2008, he visited Thailand and met Jang, who lived in a little rice village east of Bangkok. They married two years later and now run a food truck together, specializing in authentic Thai cuisine. Across the side of the black food truck is their message, “Our journey to satisfy all of your authentic Thai food needs, one step at a time.”

The couple began their mobile business in September 2014 and have been exploring Roanoke, Christiansburg and most recently, Blacksburg.

Their team of seven is led by Jang, the head chef, and Steven Widener, Brian’s best friend since elementary school, who quit his full-time job to run the truck.

“I’m so proud of Jang,” Brian said. “Seeing her become a businesswoman has been incredible.”

Since first meeting in Thailand, Brian and Jang have returned there five times. Thai street food, which is largely popular, inspired much of their menu. Their food truck allows Jang to maintain and share a taste of her home with customers.

“Food is such a big part of the culture,” Brian said. “We want to keep it as authentic as we can from what we can get our hands on.”

In an area boasting little diversity in cuisine, the couple has found a place in Roanoke that provides the fresh and exotic ingredients needed for their food. If they aren’t able to get fresh noodles for Pad Thai, a popular traditional Thai dish, they will not make it that day. Jang is committed to not compromising on dishes.

Menu selections vary per day, but consistently offer half spicy and half mild dishes to cater to a variety of tastes. All dishes are under $10 and are can be customized to three spice levels: medium, hot and “Thai hot.”

Options include coconut curries, wok specials, noodles and spring rolls. The couple even included their own dish they created together: the spicy pork rice bowl, which consists of slow-cooked pork, similar to American barbeque, in a spicy tomato sauce topped with a jalapeno and cilantro dressing over jasmine rice.

“We wanted people who weren’t familiar or didn’t want to try more ‘exotic’ stuff to enjoy it,” Brian said.

The business has been involved in charity events, caterings and festivals and hopes to continue to use the business to help the community. Scheduled events for this spring include the “Paws and Claws” Family Festival on April 25 to support animal welfare organizations and “Fork & Cork” on May 2, Blacksburg’s food, wine and art festival.

People of all ages and backgrounds come to taste their food, with some familiar faces that have become regulars. Brian recalls an elderly customer whose taste buds had become almost immune. They served her their hottest taste: Thai hot.

“I just saw her whole face light up – she was so excited she could taste something,” Brian said. “She comes back a lot now. If people try our food, they come back.”

Brian explains that some first-time customers were unfamiliar to Thai food and expected similarities to Indian curry or Chinese food. However, he explains that Thai foods are a unique blend of sweet, spicy and sour flavors. He recommends the coconut curry, a sweet but spicy and unique Thai dish.

 “I’ll let the food speak for itself,” Brian said. “It really is our motto: we want you to ‘Thai this.’”

Eventually, Brian and Jang hope to add a second truck or even open up a permanent location. For now, they’re focused on expanding tastes in the Blacksburg community.

“Being able to take Thai cuisine into a rural town like this has been awesome,” Brian said. “Even though we’re outside, we’re welcoming them into our home.”


Partner Profile: Creative Visions Foundation

Originally published by Bonfire Impact

Dan Eldon was a young Reuters photojournalist, artist and activist who covered the desperation and famine of Somalia in 1993. He was killed by a violent mob on his way to cover a bombing. Throughout his life, Eldon was proactive and passionate about humanitarian causes. His legacy inspired the Creative Visions Foundation.

A creative activist is an “individual who uses media and the arts to ignite social change in the world around them.” This definition is displayed on the Creative Visions Foundation’s website, an agency founded on the belief that creativity and integrity can inspire change, built of a community of activists and adventurous spirits.

“We provide tools, resources, mentorship and community to help everyone use the power of media and arts to build social movements and impact the world,” the website states.

Creativity and integrity is the core of Creative Visions Foundation. They offer five services designed to support creative activist spirits: the Creative Activist Network (CAN), Rock Your World, the Creativist Activist Program (CAP), Dan Eldon legacy and Creative Visions Productions. These key five services include invitations to educational workshops and events, opportunities for grants and donations, mentorships and multimedia publicity through promotional videos, event coverage and documentaries.

Current projects include Farm to Fork, a feature documentary following food from the farm through the perspectives of at-risk youth; Street Art Projects, which brings visual artists to community educational events; and the Rwanda Cinema Centre & Rwanda Film Institute, which strives to revolutionize Rwanda culturally, economically and communicatively through the educating and founding of a film industry.

Based out of southern California, the agency connects through frequent events throughout the nation. Recently, a webinar on applying community principles to nonprofit outreach was hosted by NationBuilder and “Frame By Frame,” a documentary following four Afghan photojournalists, was hosted by SXSW Film Festival in Austin.

Opportunities to network, intern, create and mentor are available to become part of the creative activist community. You can stay informed with their projects through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Short videos are also available to view on Vimeo.


Photo Slideshow Assignment: 1000 Cranes

Photo slideshow for Visual Media class (COMM 2034) at Virginia Tech capturing a student's process as she crafts 1,000 origami cranes for a project. Created using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Elements.


Strength in Weakness: Occupational Therapy

Originally published by Bonfire Impact.

In spring 2012, Jonathan Moon started getting hand cramps and muscle spasms in his arm, as he felt himself slowly losing control of his own limb. There were instances where a bag would slip from his hands or he’d miss a pass in basketball, and he was unable to lift things or use his arm like before. The problems became more frequent, and he was left puzzled and scared.

“It felt as if someone was pulling something out of my hands because I was so unaware,” Moon said. “If I just held something, it would slip.”

He had his first doctor’s visit in October. They confirmed something was wrong: there was serious muscle deterioration in his left arm, but they were unable to find a cause. Daily motions, such as strumming chords on a guitar or gripping a football, became challenges. A process of MRIs, blood tests and visits to various doctors, specialists and chiropractors began. Moon and his family were advised to see an occupational therapist between appointments to maintain his strength.

His first appointment with the occupational therapist was discouraging: he played with Play-Doh and the therapist left the room without a word. Moon continued seeing doctors and received a diagnosis from a specialist in 2013: Monomelic Amyotrophy, or Hirayama Disease, a degeneration of motor neurons responsible for controlling voluntary muscles, according to the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The condition occurs most often in Asian males 15-25 years and there is no known cure or treatment.

“If it was a solid diagnosis, I might’ve been a bit more relieved because they at least know what’s going on – but it wasn’t,” Moon said. “The uncertainty didn’t make me feel comfortable or better.”

Appointments continued into Moon’s first semester in college at Virginia Tech. He missed classes and drove four hours home in Springfield, Virginia, then an extra hour to John Hopkins’ Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, for weekly tests. In January 2014, a specialist at the Nerve, Bone & Joint Institute in Washington, D.C., who had been working with John Hopkins Hospital, concluded it was Hirayama Disease. Because of the effort these doctors had put in, Moon felt better about his situation. They referred him to a different occupational therapist.

“The biggest thing for me was that the occupational therapist showed she cared,” Moon said. “I never knew her prior, but seeing her smile and treat me warmly gave me a feeling that she wanted to genuinely help me.”

However, he was advised to postpone his next appointment until he had a solid diagnosis. This left Moon and his family at a standstill before the start of his sophomore year. Over the past two years of stress and uncertainty, Moon has relied on his faith, family and friends, who look out for him. There are stressful times when he longs for the arm strength he once had, especially because music, a huge part of his life, has been taken away. He once played the drums, clarinet, piano, guitar and bass. His two sisters and parents worry for him, and Moon feels guilty and stressed from seeing their uneasiness.

“I really appreciate them caring for me and loving on me, but sometimes I get scared that I’m burdening them, even if that’s not the case,” Moon said.

Some of his friends are unaware of his situation, and even some people who are aware, forget. Activities requiring the use of his arm fuel the most frustration: people attribute mistakes, such as missing a pass in basketball, to a lack of athleticism instead of physical inability.

However, challenges reach beyond sports and music, occurring on a daily basis: when he buttons his shirt, ties his shoelaces or types essays. Sports time is limited because the more he uses his arm, the more pain he feels. He hides his pain and does not like to take precautions, such as wearing a glove on his left hand, to avoid funny looks. ByungJun Lim, a sophomore, has been a close friend of Moon’s for the past three years and currently shares an apartment with him and two other friends. Lim encourages Moon and cites the challenges in helping without a doctor’s knowledge or personal experience.

“If I have a sprained ankle, I would just suck it up because it would get better; for him, there’s no knowing what’s going to happen,” Lim said. “It’s really hard to encourage him. I don’t want to give him any false hope, but I really do feel for him.”

Moon acknowledges that teasing is a part of social situations. He understands that, since people are unaware, insecurities may be highlighted unintentionally. Like many of his friends, Moon wants to gain muscle, but he can’t. For him, lifting weights is dangerous, because they might slip out of his hands at any moment. He encourages other people to be considerate and careful.

“It’s given me a new pair of eyes not to tease people and not to assume about peoples’ situations, because you don’t know where they’re coming from and you don’t know what their situation might be,” Moon said. “Being in this situation gave me a new pair of eyes not to assume, but to get to know people, see where they’re coming from and try to understand.”

Jonathan Moon and Patrick Sihn, a sophomore at Virginia Tech and one of Moon’s three roommates, watch for a rebound off the wall of War Memorial Gym at Virginia Tech while practicing basketball one-on-one. (Photo Credit: Lauren Pak)

Friends sometimes apologize for his situation. Appreciative of empathy, he explains that there isn’t a need for an apology. He keeps his favorite Bible verse, 2 Corinthians 12:9, as his phone background: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’”

When Moon questions why he has been placed in his situation, he looks to his faith to remind him not to be sad, but to be proud of his weakness.

“Faith gives me some sense of purpose: I don’t know what it is yet, I don’t know what is looks like, but I know that faith fuels it and gives me a sense of assurance,” Moon said. “Having faith doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to be happy about it or accept everything that happens to me, but it’s there to catch me when I fall and helps me get back up and keep moving forward.”

Through doubt and insecurity, Moon remains positive and confident that God has a plan. Moon’s experience has inspired a career in occupational therapy.

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, occupational therapists help people across their lifespans through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. Moon explains that this profession focuses on understanding peoples’ emotions and building strong client relationships, and believes that a willingness to help other people is most important in becoming a medical professional. With his parents’ support, Moon declared a psychology major his first semester of sophomore year and plans on attending graduate school for occupational therapy.

“I love being around people and helping people, and that’s one thing I think I’d be good at in this particular job: just working with people and trying to understand them,” Moon said.

As a freshman, Moon (right) planned to major in business, but after deciding on occupational therapy, declared a Psychology major to learn how to understand people better. (Photo Credit: Lauren Pak)

Moon avoids having expectations. Currently, he is focusing on preparing for Korea and seeking summer opportunities to learn about occupational therapy as he continues to work to maintain his arm strength. He has learned that having a normal body is not a given, but a blessing. “There’s going to be a certain point where I’m not going to be able to do anything about it anymore,” Moon said. “My family and I trying our best to do everything we can. In the end, it might not be something that can be cured. If that’s what it is, then that’s what it is, and I’m going to have to live with that. I’ll learn how to cope with it and deal with it for the rest of my life.”