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.
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.