In South Korea, Abandoned Babies Find Hope in an Unusual Place

Leah Barkoukis
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Posted: Mar 04, 2015 3:03 PM
In South Korea, Abandoned Babies Find Hope in an Unusual Place

"Ding-dong! Ding-dong!"

Anywhere else this would be the innocuous sound of a doorbell. But at the Jusarang Community Church in Seoul, South Korea, it’s the sound of a baby being abandoned by its mother in a makeshift drop box at the front entrance.

Appropriately inscribed above the ‘baby box’ is Psalm 27:10—“For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up.”

It’s in the wee hours of the morning, under the cover of darkness, when many mothers bring their babies to Pastor Lee Jong-rak, who’s made it his mission in life to care for these children so they are not abandoned on the streets to die. To him, every child is wanted, every child is loved, no matter the deformities, genetic disorders, or health issues.

Pastor Lee holding an orphan. Photo credit: TheDropBoxFilm.com

“Lord, thank you,” he says upon looking into the eyes of each new “delivery.”

Child abandonment in South Korea is described as a “common practice.” So common that Pastor Lee said to himself, “If I don’t do something to protect these children, I could be picking up their dead bodies at my gate.”

In a society that highly stigmatizes children born out of wedlock and those with disabilities, so many women (and sometimes their family members) feel abandonment is their only choice. The country’s birth registration system makes anonymity impossible, opening the door to public ridicule and, for teen mothers, being kicked out of high school.

While the box was set up to address this very problem, Pastor Lee says he never expected anyone to use the baby box, even praying, “God, please don’t let any baby be abandoned in the world. . . . Only if the child’s life is being threatened. Or if the baby box is their last hope. Then, Jesus, open up the door for these children.”

So far, Pastor Lee, who’s the subject of a new documentary “The Drop Box,” which is produced and distributed in partnership with Kindred Image of South Korea, Pine Creek Entertainment, Focus on the Family, and Fathom Events, has helped save more than 600 babies, many of whom have disabilities.

Pastor Lee with some of the children in his home. Photo credit: TheDropBoxFilm.com

The film tells not only the story of Pastor Lee’s heroic and selfless deeds, but also explores the emotional, physical, and financial toll associated with taking in the orphans. Most importantly, however, it’s a story about hope and love, and one which has the power to change hearts and minds about the dignity, preciousness, and value of every human life--a lesson Pastor Lee and his wife, Chun-ja, learned most intimately through their son, Eun-man, a name that means “full of God’s grace.” 

Eun-man, 26, was born with severe cognitive disabilities and physical deformities and spent more than half his life in hospitals. With twisted limbs unable to bear his weight, he is bed-ridden and in need of constant care. Yet it is this son that Pastor Lee proudly calls his teacher—it is through him, he explains, that he learned life’s dignity. And it is because of him that the baby box exists, proving that all lives have purpose.

“When Eun-man was born, I asked God at that moment ‘Why?’ Why did he give me ‘that kind of baby’? Why didn’t he give me a healthy baby? That thought immediately came to my mind,” Pastor Lee candidly recalled. “But it wasn’t even 30 seconds before I repented, ‘God, I am sorry. Thank you for giving him to me.’ So step-by-step, with faith, prayer and His words, I lived. That’s how I started this work.”

While Pastor Lee has changed an untold number of lives in South Korea through his work, the film made a profound impact on one other person: Brian Ivie, the film’s director, who became a Christian in the process.

Pastor Lee and director Brian Ivie. Photo credit: TheDropBoxFilm.com

During the March 3-5 screenings at theaters across the nation, moviegoers can hear more about his experience creating the film, as well as listen in on a brief panel discussion with Focus on the Family’s president, Jim Daly, Steven Curtis Chapman, and others. 

“The Drop Box is ultimately a story of hope," Daly said in a statement. "Even in the midst of a heart-wrenching situation, we see the heart of a father's love in Pastor Lee.

"Not everyone is called to do what he's doing or adopting a child themselves, but all Christians are called to care for orphans," he continued. "Watching this documentary changes a person; it draws you to care even more deeply for the most vulnerable among us."

For more information on the film and to find out ways you can help, visit www.thedropboxfilm.com