Pastor Lee Jong-rak of Seoul, South Korea is a man with a mission. The documentary film The Drop Box tells his story.
In 2009, after a mother left her baby on his doorstep one cold night, Lee created a system to safely receive abandoned babies. He installed a drop box, equipped with a bell, on the side of his home. The sign above the drop box reads, “Please don’t throw away unwanted babies. Please bring them here.” It is a message reminiscent of the words of Mother Theresa who said “…please don’t destroy the child, we will take the child”, while speaking about abortion in her acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Since its installation, Lee and his wife, Chun-Ja, have received six hundred babies, and have adopted or become guardians of fifteen abandoned disabled babies.
Faith is at the heart of Lee’s story. He clearly feels that God has called him to this task, a task that he executes selflessly, without counting the cost. Lee suffers from sleep deprivation, diabetes and high blood pressure. Then, there is the emotional toll of his ministry, which comes through poignantly when Lee talks about Hannah, who was born with brain damage and died unexpectedly at age six. Lee’s lingering sense of loss is palpable, as is his concern about the future of his children when he can no longer care for them.
The inspiration for Lee’s drop box came from his son, a severely disabled twenty-six year old who was hospitalized for fourteen years. Lee admits that accepting his son was difficult. “Why did God give me this child? I wasn’t grateful for this baby.” Through his struggle to find answers, Lee came to see in his son the preciousness of each human life. He named him Eun-man, which means “full of God’s grace.”
Lee’s devotion to the disabled reminded me of the work of Jean Vanier, who founded the first L’Arche community for developmentally challenged adults over 50 years ago. Vanier, who sees and accepts imperfections as part of being human, has said, “The weak teach the strong to accept and integrate the weakness and brokenness of their own lives.”
This may be the purpose that Lee alludes to when he describes Eun-man as his teacher, and when he says of the disabled babies that others would throw away, “They’re not the unnecessary ones in the world. God sent them here with a purpose.”
Mother Theresa, Jean Vanier and Pastor Lee have a message that is critically important for our time: every life has value and purpose. As a society, we struggle with this message. It contradicts the parallels we draw between human dignity and quality of life with bodily vigor and intellectual vitality.
Vanier wrote in Becoming Human, “As soon as we start judging people instead of welcoming them as they are – with their sometimes hidden beauty, as well as their more frequently visible weaknesses – we are reducing life, not fostering it.”
In the process, we reduce our own humanity.
Trail, BC resident Louise McEwan is a catechist and former teacher, with degrees in English and Theology. She writes every other Friday. She blogs at www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org