The story of a refuge for abandoned babies in Korea and inspiring pastor who made it happen
Not many movies can lay claim to having caused their maker to convert to Christianity, but that’s just what happened with The Drop Box the new documentary from filmmaker Brian Ivie. In a recent interview with The Catholic World Report, Ivie admits that, after spending two years putting together his film, he felt compelled to turn his life over to Christ. So, what is it about The Drop Box that could so move someone that they would change the course of their own life? Well. It all starts with the ringing of a bell.
At any given moment, but usually in the dark of the night, a chime goes off in the residence of Lee Jong-rak, pastor of a small non-denominational church in South Korea. That sound means someone has placed their newborn baby in a small padded box the preacher has constructed on the side of his home. No matter the time of day, as soon as he hears the bell, the pastor rushes to the depository, takes the infant, and quietly intones, “Father, I pray that this child would live with you his whole life and find a family that will love him.” What the pastor humbly fails to recognize is, God has already begun to answer that prayer in the form of Lee Jong-rak and his family.
As detailed in The Drop Box, Pastor Lee’s journey to becoming the earthbound guardian angel to Seoul, South Korea’s unwanted children began in 1987 with the birth of his own son, Eun-man. Not only was the child born with a massive cyst on one side of his head, but doctors warned Lee that even if the boy survived the surgery to have the cyst removed, the child would remain severely disabled, mentally and physically, for the rest of his life due to cerebral palsy. Like any parent, Lee was devastated by the news, but after praying on the matter, Lee realized there was only one real choice for a Christian. He chose life.
Selling his home to pay for the medical costs, Lee moved his family into the hospital ward where they stayed for almost 14 years until Eun-man was healthy enough to be discharged. It was during this period, the pastor says, that his son taught him the true dignity and worth of all human life. It was a lesson that would serve him and his community well in the years to come, beginning on one fateful cold morning when Lee discovered a newly born disabled infant lying abandoned outside his home.
Unwanted children, it seems, are something of a problem in South Korea. Experts say a number of social factors contribute to this problem including the preference for sons over daughters, an accepted discrimination against those with disabilities, and a pronounced stigma against unwed mothers. As one interviewee notes, there is not, and probably never will be, a South Korean version of the television show, “16 and Pregnant.”
Sadly, the typical method of disposing of the unwanted is abortion. Although the procedure is technically illegal in the country, the laws are rarely enforced. In fact, it is estimated that South Korea has one of the highest abortion rates in the world, almost double that of the United States. But for those who can’t afford or acquire an abortion, they will often choose to simply leave the child in the streets. Confronted with this horror first hand, Pastor Lee decided he had to do something about it. To that effect, he built a “baby box” where those who felt, for whatever reason, that they could not raise their newborn could leave them somewhere they might have a chance at life.
It is, perhaps, not the most eloquent method of dealing with a horrible situation. Pastor Lee’s drop box has its critics, and the documentary allows them time to voice their concerns. Due to the anonymous nature of the project, there is no chance of obtaining health records for the children Pastor Lee takes in, nor any way for the children to seek their birth parents once grown. But despite its drawbacks, the one thing critics cannot deny is the simple fact that, thanks to the drop box, the children are alive.
It’s not just the idea of the drop box itself that makes the documentary so compelling, though. Where the heart of the movie truly lies is in the moments it spends with Lee and his wife as they care for not only Eun-man, but for the other disabled children they have adopted as well. Hearing Pastor Lee describe how his first child taught him to respect all human life is one thing, watching it play out on screen is another thing entirely.
Better than any movie I’ve seen in recent memory, The Drop Box communicates the value of children with special needs. It is sometimes hard for those on the outside to understand, but most parents of such children will be the first to tell you that it is these children who, in the end, are the true teachers in their homes. And despite the hardships involved, especially with severe cases like Eun-man, it is ultimately a great honor to have been given such a child to raise. The beauty of The Drop Box is not only does it tell us this, but it shows us. Better still, it makes us feel it. I can give no higher praise to the film than that.
In a world he didn’t create, in a time he didn’t choose, one man looks for signs of God in the world by… watching movies. When he’s not reviewing new releases for Aleteia, David Ivesspends his time exploring the intersection of low-budget/cult cinema and Catholicism at The B-Movie Catechism.