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7.4.15

'The Drop Box' Raises Awareness of Global Issues

Originally published by the Collegiate Times as Lifestyles.

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 a 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 with Lee and his wife, Lee Chun-ja. Given months to live, he lives with severe cerebral palsy, requires 24/7 attention and is completely dependent on the care of his parents.

Lee developed a reputation as “lover 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.

Later, a woman asked Lee to adopt her own disabled daughter, Sang-hee, and he did. Eventually, 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 its goal.

“We exist to end child abandonment in South Korea and create a culture of life around the world,” its 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 by the South Korean government.

“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.”

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

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.”

Following the film, Kindred Image, with its 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 like these exist elsewhere, with more than 150 million orphans worldwide. As a company, 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. It strives to “restore the image of a God-given ‘kindred image,’” according to its mission statement.

“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.”

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