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SAFETY DEPOSIT: A drop box for unwanted infants at Lee’s church.
Kim Hong
SAFETY DEPOSIT: A drop box for unwanted infants at Lee’s church.

Life changer

Lifestyle | Film spotlights South Korean pastor’s work—and overflowing joy—saving disabled and abandoned babies

Issue: "Unstoppable?," April 20, 2013

This is a story of a film that celebrates life saving—and changed the filmmaker’s life.

In December 2011, University of Southern California junior Brian Ivie and his crew of 10 flew to Seoul, South Korea, to film Pastor Lee Jong-rak and his house full of disabled children who had been abandoned. The result is a 72-minute documentary called The Drop Box that won the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival’s “Best Sanctity of Life” award and the “Best of Festival” Jubilee award in February. 

Ivie, now 22, received a $101,000 reward, which he said he would use to continue telling important stories: “I would rather tell the plainest truth with $100,000 than the most sophisticated technological lie with $10 million.” He also said creating the film changed his life because he became a Christian while making it: “I saw all these kids come through this drop box with deformities and disabilities, and eventually—like a heaven flash—I realized that I was one of those kids too; that I have a crooked soul, and God is a father who loves me still.”

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The story of the film begins 26 years ago with Pastor Lee’s love for his son, born with cerebral palsy that led to brain damage. At first Lee could not understand why God allowed this to happen, but looking at his son, Eun-man (which means full of God’s grace), he saw the preciousness of life. Lee started visiting other disabled children in the hospital. Soon people started asking him to care for their disabled children. Many left babies at the doorstep of his four-room home, nestled in a Seoul neighborhood.

Lee’s house also functions as a church and an orphanage, housing about 20 disabled children ages 2 to 26. In 2009 he created the drop box at the side of the building to keep the babies warm. Next to the box a sign in Korean says, “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 in the street. Bring them here to a place of safety and protection.” When someone pulls the latch, a bell rings inside, alerting Lee that a baby awaits.

The government has tried to shut down the home, saying it doesn’t meet safety regulations and encourages women to abandon children. But Lee has fought back, countering that the drop box has saved many lives—and he is working on building a larger home.

Ivie read about the drop box in a Los Angeles Times article and decided to make a film about it and the practice of child abandonment. He set up a Kickstarter campaign in September 2011 that raised $20,000 for buying equipment and sending a college-age crew to South Korea. There the students saw the commitment of Lee, 59, who has adopted 11 children and is adopting four more: “Some of those kids would hurt themselves, most would scream and wail. … But when you’re with them, you’re called to remember that none of us are easy to love. That all of us kick and scream, and yet God died for us.”

Although few in the crew spoke Korean and Lee’s household couldn’t speak English, they grew close eating together, taking field trips with the kids, and playing with them. The children, who have disabilities ranging from Down syndrome to cerebral palsy to quadriplegia, filled the house with cries and laughter, temper tantrums, and giddy dancing—all under Lee’s loving care. Ivie says, “You look around and think, gosh, what a burden this must be. And then you look up and the man in middle of it all is grinning from ear to ear.”

The Drop Box does not yet have a release date, as the team is working on final edits and finding a distributor to get the film in theaters, but the three-minute trailer available on the film’s website has already garnered attention. During Ivie’s acceptance speech at the film festival, he spoke about the illusion that we can be self-reliant and what he had learned from the orphans: “We rely on God for every breath that we take.”

Cadavers wanted

Associated Press/Photo by Martha Irvine

Crain’s Chicago Business reported recently on a nationwide shortage of cadavers: One nonprofit business, the Anatomical Gift Association, needs about 425 bodies a year to meet the demand of Chicago-area medical students, and barely met that quota “in three of the last six years.” Three decades ago the association regularly received about 800 bodies a year, but organ donations may have cut into the market for whole bodies. The article said that the association may help its bottom line by producing plastinated cadavers, which sell for about $200,000 each. Those are popular in museum exhibits and education, but aren’t good for doctors in training, since plasticized bodies can’t be dissected. —Susan Olasky

Gloomy forecast

California faces immediate economic woes and long-term demographic problems. Fewer couples are having children and few are migrating to California, creating a dearth of children, according to a study by the University of Southern California and the Lucile Packard Foundation.

While children made up 33 percent of California’s population in 1970, the number is expected to drop to 21 percent by 2030. This coincides with an unprecedented number of baby boomers retiring, which will greatly skew the ratio of working-age adults to seniors. The smaller pool of children will need to replace their parents’ generation of workers and taxpayers and somehow support the massive number of retirees.

From 2000 to 2010, the state saw a 3.6 percent decline in children under 10, as the birthrate fell to 1.94 children per woman, below the replacement level of 2.1. While the decline rate is comparable to other East Coast and Midwest states, California has historically relied on migrants from other states and countries to grow its economy. Now California is losing them too, and found itself with a net loss of 129,239 people in 2010. 

The study’s conclusion from the findings: Provide better healthcare and education. It didn’t mention lowering taxes, removing burdensome regulations, improving the overall economy, and promoting marriage. –A.L.

Angela Lu
Angela Lu

Angela is a reporter for WORLD Magazine who lives and works in Taiwan. She enjoys cooking, reading, and storytelling. Follow Angela on Twitter @angela818.


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