The Drop Box is a heart wrenching, yet, inspirational documentary about a selflessly heroic South Korean pastor, Lee Jong-rak, who is consumed by a compelling desire to love unconditionally abandoned and helpless newborn babies. The film opened at a limited number of Canadian theaters in early March. Yet, due to its popularity, movie goers in the United States will have a chance to view the documentary at select theaters on March 16. The award-winning documentary is directed by Brian Ivie, a 24-year-old American filmmaker.
In 2009, Pastor Lee and his wife installed a drop box on the outside of their home that functions as a depository for undesired infants, many of whom possess physical and/or mental disabilities. Some of these babies are also abandoned by teen mothers who fear societal repercussions such as expulsion from school and ostracism or disownment by their families. The documentary recounts how many of these teens contemplate suicide because of their predicament.
Long before the drop box was installed, however, Pastor Lee endured his own familial hardships. They began with the birth of his biological son Eun-man, who was born with an enormous cyst on his left cheek. Despite multiple operations as a child, he remained disabled his whole life suffering from a severe form of cerebral palsy. The cost to maintain Eun-man’s bedridden life was tremendous in both time and wealth.
Over the years, the Lees took in orphans they had encountered at the hospital that cared for Eun-man. Pastor Lee’s reputation for loving unconditionally the “unlovable” developed far and wide. A woman abandoned her child one cold evening outside of Lee’s home. Her decision moved Lee to build his drop box equipped with a motion sensor and alarm in order to help prevent the untimely death of abandoned babies.
Aside from the very poignant yet uplifting scenes, the film possesses several humorous moments. For instance Lee is referred to by his wife as “fish bones” because of his ultra-skinny physique. In turn, Lee says his wife is too short and stumpy. Even family members urged him not to marry her because of her appearance. Despite their compromised aesthetic preferences, Lee warmly explains that they ultimately married because of their deep love for one another.
The couple’s love for each other is evident from the mutual support they give to the children in their care. On countless nights Pastor Lee kept sleepless vigils listening for the sound of the drop box bell. He describes the sound of the bell as a heart breaking moment in part because of the realization that a parent is willing to abandon her baby in such a way. Nevertheless, Pastor Lee, from the moment he opens that drop box door, pours out his abundant love upon that baby. He lifts the baby, kneels and prays, thanking God for safely delivering the baby and for the opportunity to help. From there he delivers the baby to a hospital, orphanage or even adoption agency.
Every year in Seoul hundreds of babies are abandoned and many die. However, Pastor Lee and a few volunteers have managed to save hundreds of infants who would otherwise be forsaken. Often times a letter accompanies the baby, typically written by the biological mother. Pastor Lee reads a few for the documentary. Most of them thank Lee for creating hope for the mothers and their babies. The South Korean government accuses Pastor Lee of facilitating the abandonment of children. Nothing could be further from the truth. The problem existed long before Pastor Lee setup the drop box. Indeed it is a problem that not only affects South Korea but many parts of the world including our own backyard.
There are roughly a dozen children who live with Lee and his family permanently. His tireless efforts to rescue dropped-offed babies has taken its toll on Lee’s health. As a weeping volunteer explains, there is a great fear that there will be no one who possesses the strength or desire to continue Lee’s great legacy after he dies.
However, there may be one successor in the coming years. Remarkably he may be one of the very orphans that Lee rescued at the hospital: a young boy wise beyond his years. This boy, perhaps 11 years old, suffers from a congenital hand deformity. The interview sequence with the boy is one of the most touching moments of the film. He recounts how he was often chastised by his fellow peers because of his hands. The other children would not throw that ball at him during dodgeball because they said “it’s no fun to play with a cripple” and laughed. Despite the cruelty of his peers, the boy explains that he demonstrated that he could play all the sports just as well and developed a great mastery of Taekwondo. He also became class president for his leadership abilities and finally earns the respect of his peers, who have now accepted him wholeheartedly.
This boy also describes the disappointment he felt when he found out that the Lees were not his biological parents but he said he now considers them his real parents. He loves Eun-man as his own brother and prays for him. Despite his young age, he realizes that his father is sick and wishes to continue his father’s work one day.
Above the drop box, Pastor Lee has placed the very fitting caption of Psalm 27:10 which reads “Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” Since God has adopted him, Lee believes he should adopt those that have been deemed undesirables by their biological parents.
Nearing the end of the film Pastor Lee exhibits great wisdom and insight when he intimates that these unwanted babies are far from being purposeless. He affirms that they do indeed have purpose and intrinsic value. In spite of their ailments, incapacities and sufferings they smile in the face of injustice. Their courage can act as a light of inspiration to the world demonstrating love and hope that can transform us from within. This stems from the profound realization of the Judeo-Christian faith, that we all carry the spark of the divine; that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. Although many of us may not have such physical or mental incapacities like Pastor Lee’s children, we suffer from our selfishness and ungodly desires. Humans throughout the world, both individually and collectively, have a strong tendency to focus on themselves too much and ignore the suffering around them.
The light that Pastor Lee brings to this ever-enveloping darkness with the untimely predicaments of innocent babies is inestimable and is what prompted director Ivie to produce his documentary. In 2011, Lee’s story reached many parts of the globe including Los Angeles where Ivie resides. It ultimately inspired Ivie to travel to South Korea with his crew to depict on film this remarkable story. Ivie does a magnificent job capturing the deep emotions of those he interviews. Some of the most memorable moments of the film focus on the children’s smiles and playful interactions.
In a twist of fate, while pursuing his selfish desires of fame, Ivie was unexpectedly transformed by his encounter with Pastor Lee. The young aspiring director was profoundly moved by Lee’s inspiring example of sanctity that he converted to Christianity. In his acceptance speech at the 8th annual San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, he candidly confessed:
I became a Christian while making this movie. When I started to make it and I saw all these kids come through the drop box—it was like a flash from heaven, just like these kids with disabilities had crooked bodies, I have a crooked soul. And God loves me still. When it comes to this sanctity of life issue, we must realize that that faith in God is the only refuge for people who are deemed unnecessary. This world is so much about self-reliance, self-worth, and self-esteem. It’s a total illusion that we can be self-sufficient. Christ is the only thing that enables us.
This documentary can act as a much needed remedy to the devaluation of human life and dignity throughout our planet. It could also help cure the apathy among many who do not care enough to reflect upon the intrinsic worth of all human beings. This man of God, in a distant part of the globe, teaches everyone a valuable lesson. He inspires us to move outside of our selfish lives through acting selflessly and partaking in God’s call to impart love and compassion to all of humanity whether it be the unborn, the disabled, the sick, the elderly, the forgotten or those who suffer silently in despair.