Adopting Beauty and Dignity

A movie and a movement

Thursday is the last opportunity to see The Drop Box during a three-day run in theaters across the country (there will be a DVD). The Drop Box is the inspiring, challenging, beautiful story of a South Korean pastor and his family who welcome abandoned children into their home. Kelly Rosati is vice president of Community Outreach at Focus on the Family, a partner in and advocate for the film. She talks about the film, adoption, and her work.


Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why is The Drop Box “one of the best things” you’ve ever been a part of, as you put it on Twitter?

Kelly Rosati: There are many reasons. First, it tangibly demonstrates the extravagant love of God for every human person — without exception or reservation. It tells a beautiful story of a need that is far too often overlooked. There are more than 150 million orphans worldwide, and they are not confined to the developing world. They are in South Korea and other developed nations — including, yes, the United States. I’m also encouraged by the way this documentary presents the beauty and dignity of human life in the experiences of children who have been discarded because they have special needs. And I love the fact that the pastor at the center of the story is a hero — not in a big, bombastic way, but in a quiet and unassuming way.


Lopez: What is The Drop Box, in your mind? A PSA for adoption? Wholly pro-life? Something more? Something else?

Rosati: Yes. The Drop Box is wholly pro-life; the message of the dignity of every human person shouts from the screen — but without actually shouting a single word. It is a PSA for the beauty, majesty, and realities of adoption, the power and necessity of belonging and family. It is also a reminder that one person can make a difference. Not everyone is called to take the same path as Pastor Lee. But we can all do something to support orphans, the cause of adoption, or the adoptive families in our communities. Most important, the movie is a love story about God’s love for each of us expressed through Jesus Christ. 


Lopez: When did you first see The Drop Box, and what was your reaction?

Rosati: Several Focus on the Family staff members had met Brian Ivie, the director of the film, saw the movie, and brought it back eager for me to take a look. When we watched the movie, we were all speechless. There was not a dry eye in the house. We knew it was something that Focus should get behind because it was everything we are for: God’s love, family, life, and orphan care. I was also struck by the way the film was honest about the toll this work was taking on Pastor Lee. I thought that this film could challenge people who loved the idea that “someone” was doing this into considering what role they might themselves play in caring for orphans and adoptive families.


Lopez: Have you met Pastor Lee? Did he meet your expectations?

Rosati: I had the privilege of meeting Pastor Lee and his lovely wife, Chun-ja, while they were here in the U.S. helping spread the word about the movie and about their work on the streets of Seoul. They are wonderful. Pastor Lee is a humble man, yet powerful in his commitment to protecting, embracing, and advocating for those who are overlooked by the rest of society. The ones Jesus called “the least of these.”


Lopez: Why the three-day-only run?

Rosati: As with our first documentary, Irreplaceable, we partnered with Fathom Events to bring The Drop Box to movie theaters nationwide. Fathom specializes in this type of limited-engagement, “special event” screening in movie theaters. It is not a traditional theatrical run. In addition to the film, the audience will see a recorded discussion of the issues surrounding orphan care as well as special musical performances by Steven Curtis Chapman and Jon McLaughlin. More than 130,000 people across North America saw Irreplaceable last year, and we expect an even bigger turnout for The Drop Box because it’s a three-night engagement, rather than one night only.


Lopez: Is there something dehumanizing about the title? How do you feel about the whole concept of dropping a baby off?

Rosati: I can’t speak for Brian Ivie, but to me, the title is slightly ironic, in a bitter way. Of course the concept of a “drop box” for babies is dehumanizing! But more so is being left in a gutter or in a dumpster with the trash. Baby boxes are not the ideal solution for the issue of child abandonment. But sometimes they are necessary. Pastor Lee himself would agree strongly. His and our prayer is not for more baby boxes, but for society to reach the point when baby boxes are no longer needed. 


Lopez: Are you, or would Focus on the Family be, a proponent of something similar in the U.S.?

Rosati: Currently in the U.S., there are safe-haven laws in place that allow a mother to safely and anonymously surrender her baby at a fire station or a hospital. There was an article just this week about an effort in Indiana to create “baby boxes” like the one in the film. We are supportive of safe-haven laws, but again, they aren’t the ultimate solution. These laws are designed to preserve and protect the lives of babies in those situations where their mothers feel they have no other options available. Certainly, in cases where the birth parents are willing to go through official channels — and all of the record-keeping such procedures entail — to make an adoption plan, we would encourage that. But at the end of the day, we will always prioritize saving lives.


Lopez: What is the Adoption & Orphan Care Initiative at Focus on the Family?

Rosati: It is our effort to use the voice and reach of Focus on the Family on behalf of those without a voice. The primary program is called “Wait No More: Finding Families for America’s Waiting Children.” It’s a community-based collaborative half-day event at which we recruit adoptive families for the kids in foster care awaiting adoption. There are more than 100,000 children currently in the U.S. foster-care system in this situation. We’ve worked with more than 220 government leaders, adoption agencies, church leaders, and community groups across the U.S. to raise awareness about the problem and recruit families for kids waiting for permanent families. We have hosted 25 events in 19 states so far and, as a result, more than 3,000 families have initiated the process of adoption from foster care.

We are also very passionate about post-adoption support for families. Once those kids come home, that’s not the end of the journey; it’s still very much the beginning. We provide benevolent resources, conference scholarships, and other help to families who need adoption-competent parenting help. We also provide scholarships for licensed therapists to obtain advanced training. In exchange for the scholarship, we ask the therapists to provide pro bono services to one family and to use their adoption-competency skills in their practice with other families.


Lopez: How did you get involved in adoption — in adopting your children?

Rosati: My husband and I were long-time pro-life advocates. So naturally, we were supportive of the concept of adoption. We had no idea there were kids in our own community who needed adoptive families. When we learned about that, we knew that our faith and pro-life commitment really led to one obvious conclusion – we needed to be willing to live what we said we believed, and so we started the foster-care adoption process.


Lopez: What has adoption meant to your life?

Rosati: Sixteen years and four kids later, our life has been blessed more than we could ever describe. The depth of love we’ve experienced is impossible to describe adequately. But it’s also been harder than we could have ever imagined because parenting kids with a trauma history and special needs is extremely difficult – and humbling. We’ve had a lot to learn, and we’ve had to change an awful lot to be the parents that our kids need.


Lopez: What can we do to support children in foster care in the U.S.?

Rosati: I’m glad you asked! As I mentioned earlier, there are more than 100,000 kids in the U.S. foster-care system. But there are more than 300,000 churches in the United States. Just let that math sink in. If just one family in every three churches adopted a child, we could literally eliminate the list of kids awaiting adoption in the U.S. That sounds like an achievable goal to me.

Of course, not everyone is called to adopt. Not everyone is called to go to the lengths to which Pastor Lee has gone. That’s why church involvement is so important. The number of families in each church that actually take the step to adopt might be small, but the church as a whole can then come alongside them in the journey. Adopting kids – especially those from difficult backgrounds – can be incredibly difficult. That’s why adoptive families need a supportive community around them. I always say that if someone can cook, clean, drive, or run errands, they can make a life-changing difference to an adoptive family. It sounds a little overly dramatic, but it’s not. It’s a matter of churches stepping up to the plate and wrapping around the adoptive families in their midst. At Focus on the Family, we’ve established a tool called “A Servant’s Heart” to equip churches to be a meaningful part of this process.


Lopez: Should we be making adoption easier?

Rosati: Almost everyone answers “Yes” to this question automatically. I don’t happen to be in that camp. It is a complicated question. There are certainly things that should be easier, but the process involved is to protect children, and that’s vital. It’s also important for people to understand that actually parenting kids via adoption can be daunting if the child has experienced trauma, and most of them have. If a prospective family finds that going through a frustrating process is actually too frustrating for them to deal with, it’s a good clue that maybe they should consider serving in a different arena. Going through the process will increase your patience, your tenacity, your advocacy skills, your collaborative impulses – all things that need to happen to best serve the kids coming into your family. It’s not easy, it’s frustrating and annoying and uncomfortable at times. 

Adopting a child is a lifelong commitment, one of the most challenging experiences that a family can face. People considering adopting with the mindset of “This will be easy!” are approaching it from the wrong perspective. It can be difficult – but it’s worth it. Adoption is a reflection of the very heart of God.


Lopez: What’s your best case for getting people to see The Drop Box?

Rosati: As we’ve already established, it will be in theaters for only three nights – March 3, 4, and 5. This is your chance! This film will move you like perhaps nothing you’ve seen before. You will cry tears of sorrow but also tears of joy. I can’t count the number of people who have seen the film at previews and other settings and described it as “life-changing.” It’s that good. I also think those of us committed to the sanctity of human life have a real opportunity with this film, and I don’t want that to just slip by. 


Lopez: What would you hope some takeaways and action items from The Drop Box might be for people?

Rosati: We want people to get involved, to advocate on behalf of the more than 150 million orphans worldwide. Again, this isn’t about convincing everyone to adopt a child. It’s about raising awareness and encouraging our society – and churches in particular – to offer practical support to the families in their midst who have made the choice to adopt. Each one of us has a role to play. After watching the film, I hope each viewer will ask himself or herself, “What is my role?” I hope they will then take the next step and put their convictions into action. The worst thing would be for people to walk away thinking, “Oh, that was nice,” or, “Good for Pastor Lee,” “God bless that man,” and not be willing to consider the impact they can have. 

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online, and founding director of Catholic Voices USA.


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