Just saw a remarkable movie, “The Drop Box”, a documentary produced by Focus on the Family. It’s about a pastor in Seoul, South Korea who was increasingly distressed by the plight of the 200-plus infants left to die annually in his city. (In our enlightened nation, we have physicians to dispose of such children surgically before they leave the womb.)
Children born out of wedlock, as well as disabled children, are considered a disgrace by many South Koreans. It is all too common to leave them somewhere – e.g., a garbage bin – to die. Even if left outside a church or home for someone to take in, the infant may die of cold before being found.
As it happened, Pastor Lee and his wife’s second child, a son, was born with severe neurological deficits and physical deformities, requiring him to remain hospitalized for 14 years before the Lees could take him home. The Lees practically resided in the hospital during these years. Desperate mothers and their relatives, doubtless impressed by the Lees’ devotion to their son’s care, began bringing them infants that they would have otherwise discarded. The Lees took them in. Infants were also left in baskets outside their church or home. The Lees adopting many of these, placed some for adoption elsewhere, and cared for the many who could not be placed. Without their planning it, their home became an orphanage.
Eventually, the Lees decided to install a “drop box” for unwanted infants in the outside wall of their home, since the babies being left at their doorstep were in danger of quickly dying of exposure. Since the drop box was installed, mothers can drop off an unwanted baby at any time, day or night, sounding a chime within the Lees’ home – often in the wee hours. Pastor Lee’s first move after retrieving the infant, always, is to hold it close to his heart and thank the Lord for saving its life.
The babies are often disabled and require immediate medical care. Many continue to require constant care for their medical disabilities. Pastor Lee is dangerously diabetic and in increasingly poor health: but nobody else has the stamina to stay awake with the children all night, as is frequently required. His wife and able-bodied children, as well as volunteers, help all that they can, but the care and placement of the 400 or so infants they have saved has been a monumental task.
The documentary does not pretty up the Lees’ ministry. The viewer winces as they irrigate their son’s tracheotomy and massage his deformed feet; at the photos of a baby dropped off with his umbilical cord still attached, the blood from childbirth still sticky on his body; at the children’s contorted limbs and twisted faces. Pastor Lee’s rush to the drop box at 2 or 3 am, his face filled with anxious concern; the first sight of the swaddled baby, often with a letter from the baby’s mother; the swirl of activity as the camera pans the barely-awake faces of family and volunteers as the baby’s health status is swiftly evaluated: one feels the tension, the exhaustion, the relentless wringing of the heart.
Then there are the shots of the nursery: so many babies and children; so many needing 1:1, sometimes continuous care. A few of the letters left with the rescued babies are read. They are heartbreaking: “Please forgive me. I can no longer take care of my child…” “I’ve named him ____; please let him keep that name in case I ever see him…””I’m sorry…””Please forgive me…””I left my baby with you, Pastor Lee. I heard of you, and I know you’ll take good care of her…”
But despite the suffering, exhaustion, and heartbreak we see, the overwhelming message is of joy and LOVE. The babies and children smile; they know they’re loved. They are bathed in hugs, kisses, playful pokes, touches. One adopted son lost about 4 of his 10 fingers because of health problems. He is a delightful, smiling, spunky 4th-grader, twice elected president of his class and a martial arts force to be reckoned with. “I want to carry on my father’s work”, he says. We watch as he talks to the Lees’ son-by-birth and strokes his twisted hand.
That son is bedridden and can neither speak nor feed, clothe, or bathe himself. He requires constant care. He has a tracheotomy that requires routine irrigation. “He is my teacher”, says Pastor Lee. “He teaches me that every life is more important than the whole world.” The doctors said that he could only blink his eyes: but he smiles, and it’s clear he knows what he’s smiling about.
Who but Jesus loves that much? Who but Jesus could bring about that joyful sacrifice? The director of “The Drop Box”, seeing that inexplicable love, became a Christian in the course of making the movie. As he saw how disability, deformity, and unwantedness proved no obstacles to the Lees’ God-driven love, he realized that he needed God just as desperately to save him – from his own interior, invisible, sin-twisted deformity. So does He yearn to save us all, scooping us out of whatever drop box we’ve crawled ourselves into, massaging and bathing our hearts, holding us close to His heart, and being the All that we need – if we’ll let Him.