A Christian pastor in South Korea is getting a surge of publicity after filmmakers took notice of his controversial effort to rescue abandoned infants. Pastor Lee Jong-rak of Seoul’s Jusarang Church, responding to an increasing number of infants turning up on city streets, opened a “baby box” for parents to deposit babies that they could not care for.
The documentary “The Drop Box” has made the rounds at film festivals since 2013, but a recent boost by Christian ministry Focus on the Family has brought it to theaters from March 3-5. Lee’s story was first chronicled in a 2011 Los Angeles Times article.
The film candidly acknowledges that the “Baby Box” concept isn’t ideal – instead, it is Lee’s effort to prevent far worse problems when children are left outdoors in alleyways. Jusarang Church opened the Seoul drop box modeled after groups in Eastern Europe that had installed them.
Lee reports that a new child is dropped off an average of every three days, an electronic bell signaling the arrival.
Government officials and children’s advocates are concerned that baby boxes may have the unintended consequence of encouraging abandonment. Children dropped off at the box also lack medical records — no small complication when many have disabilities or signs of prior surgeries.
Lee is unapologetic, pointing to hundreds of infant children found abandoned in Seoul each year. Some have been found in cold weather that could be life-threatening, and others were found already deceased.
It would be easy to initially dismiss the film as a “feel good” story with Lee and volunteer care-givers playing with adorable children, once abandoned by a culture that praises perfection. But the tiredness of Lee is apparent, and some of the children’s disabilities necessitate intensive care-giving.
The message of “The Drop Box” is that all lives have value. Lee himself points to his disabled 28-year-old son Eun-man, who lives on his back and requires extensive care. Eun-man spent the first 14 years of his life in a hospital before he was able to be discharged to home care. During that time, Lee and his wife Chun-ja met disabled children at the hospital and began to understand the need for caretakers of abandoned children. Without Eun-man, they never would have begun the ministry of caring for these children.
Focus on the Family hopes that the documentary will inspire viewers to come alongside other adoptive families. “The Drop Box” highlights issues relating to orphans and orphan care, one of the Colorado Springs-based ministry’s emphases.