Eun-man Lee is 26 years old. He was born with cerebral palsy. He spent 14 years in a hospital. Thanks be to God.
Thanks be to God?!, you might be thinking.
Yes, Thanks be to God.
During Eun-man’s lengthy hospital stay, his father, Jung-rak Lee, a pastor in South Korea, wound up ministering to other children, many of them with disabilities, many of them abandoned. He adopted some of them. And then they kept coming to him and his family.
Eun-man’s life has been a lifesaver.
So many babies abandoned. It’s described as “a common practice” in South Korea. A mother can’t handle the child she has given birth to. So she — or the father, or some other relative — leaves the baby in front of someone’s house, hoping that whoever lives there will take on the responsibility she can’t. Somewhere around 2008, Jung-rak Lee noticed that these children were all around. And many of them wouldn’t survive, dying of exposure before anyone found them.
Lee said to himself: “If I don’t do something to protect these children, I could be picking up their dead bodies at my gate.”
Pastor Lee and his wife not only opened their home to some of these children but sent out invitations, so to speak. The Jusarang — which means God’s love — Community Church they run has become a home for the abandoned and disabled. They installed a heated “baby box” in the wall of their building for people to put their abandoned infants in.
At the beginning of a new documentary, The Drop Box, produced and distributed by Focus on the Family and Kindred Image, you hear the sound Pastor Lee and those around him — including the children — hear when someone drops off a baby. The alert sounds like a doorbell. “When I hear this sound, my heart drops,” he says. “Thump, thump, thump. With my heart beating fast, I run down. I take the baby out. ‘Thank you, God. For saving this child’s life.’”
Knowing he is no Superman, and having no Messiah complex, he humbly prays, “Allow him to meet good parents, and allow him to live with you,” as he hugs the baby in his arms.
He has been described as a MacGyver type: With no particular training, he designed and built the box himself. In The Drop Box — which will be shown in theaters across the country for three days this week (March 3, 4, and 5) — he explains that after he installed the box, he didn’t expect any babies to be left in it. In fact, he prayed, “God, please don’t let any baby be abandoned in the world. . . . Only if the child’s life is being threatened. Or if the baby box is their last hope. Then, Jesus, open up the door for these children.”
There’s some controversy surrounding the baby box. But, on the ground in South Korea, that’s the stuff of privileged debate. When a desperate mother abandons her child, the first thing to do is save a life. And so Pastor Lee does, with the prayer that someday such a thing will never again be needed: that every mother will have the love and support she needs, that every child — whatever his challenges — will see the look of love that the babies who are left at Jusarang do.
Some of the babies come with letters. There are “miserable stories,” Pastor Lee says. In some cases it was like a miracle to these women that they heard of him. One teenage girl wrote: “I didn’t know what to do by myself alone.” But she knew that if Pastor Lee found her baby, “My son would be raised very well.”
One of the abandoned children was named Hannah. As Young-ran Jeong, director of the Jusarang community, explains in the film, “Hannah lived for six years and went to heaven.” Hannah’s mother — who was in middle school — had taken drugs while pregnant, and her daughter was born with brain damage. She had to breathe through her neck and eat through her nose. It was quite an effort to care for her, but Pastor Lee and his wife did so with love. So much so that they were heartbroken when she died; she simply stopped breathing one morning, and Pastor Lee recalls his immediate reaction: “God, can you please make her breathe again?”
The heart of this man and this family seems as if it were made for these children. “God, I will die for these children.”
As Jeong describes it, “Hannah lived a beautiful life and left us.” Rather than wonder why anyone would make such an effort, or if the world wouldn’t be better off without a child who suffers in this way, he says, “Because of Hannah many people felt peace in their hearts.” Jeong adds: “There were many people who thought: ‘There is a child living like this; I should not live my life so carelessly.’”
Jeong says when those who knew Hannah at Jusarang see her picture, many of them say: “Hannah, let’s meet in heaven.”
The contrast between the Jusarang community and the hellish images of abandoned babies being left to die on the streets of Seoul could not be starker. To those at Jusarang, the daily life there is, as one of the children puts it, “sort of like heaven. It just feels good and nice. The children here are just having fun.” But everyone there is keenly aware of what goes on outside — and what these children were saved from. “But then when the baby box rings,” the child continues, “it changes from the place where angels are walking around. The atmosphere of the house just changes abruptly. Like a car accelerating out of nowhere. It’s horrifying.” The children especially are horrified by the thought that a woman or girl would feel she had to abandon her baby — and by the reminder that they themselves had been abandoned. “At that very moment, it becomes a war. A war in heaven.” The angels rush to guard and protect. To love.
Pastor Lee credits his son Eun-man for anything good he has accomplished. It was not easy to care for him, or to understand why he had to suffer as he did. Responding with love to the challenges the family faced, he says, he “learned about the dignity of valuable life” — each and every life.
Pastor Lee and his wife make it clear that for them there is no such thing as an unwanted baby. If only every one of us would tap into the depths of our hearts for the love the world needs! That’s what the Lees did. They saw love, and responded with love.