Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

cram halfI keep asking the question, but I have no answer. What am I doing to make a real difference in the world?

I recently read about a Korean pastor named Lee Jong-rak who created the Baby Box, a drop box for the purpose of collecting abandoned babies, particularly those who are physically or mentally handicapped. Hundreds of unwanted babies are abandoned on the streets of South Korea every year.

Pastor Lee wanted to provide an alternative, so he cut a hole in the wall of his house and built a drop box, similar to a library book repository. The inside of the box contains a thick towel, lights and heating to keep the baby comfortable. The box is marked with a simple handmade sign, “Place to leave babies.” A bell rings when someone puts a baby into the box. Pastor Lee, his wife or a volunteer immediately moves the baby inside.

Pastor Lee admits that he did not really expect babies to be left in the box.

He was mistaken. The babies arrive at all hours of the day and night. Some include a note but most appear without a word. Only a few mothers have spoken to him.

Nearly all of the babies have disabilities, including deafness, blindness, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. Pastor Lee said that in Korea, “babies with physical deformities are seen as a national shame in a culture that prizes physical perfection, where cosmetic surgeries have become as common as haircuts.”

But to Pastor Lee Jong-rak, the babies are perfect, and all have found a home at the makeshift orphanage. It is the only private center for disabled children in South Korea.

Since 1998, nearly three dozen babies have arrived at Pastor Lee’s modest-size home in what the Los Angeles Times describes as a ragged working-class neighborhood in Seoul. He and his wife have adopted 10 of these babies, which is as many as the authorities will allow. At last count, five children have been adopted, three have been reunited with their families, and three have died. The rest are cared for in their cheery home full of noise and love.

Half a world away, 22-year-old filmmaker Brian Ivie read a story in the Los Angeles Times about Pastor Lee’s mission. Inspired, Ivie traveled to Korea to make a documentary, entitled simply, “The Drop Box.” This 72-minute film did more than inform the world about the drop box; it changed the filmmaker’s life.

Last year, the documentary won the grand prize and “The Best Sanctity of Life” award at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. In his acceptance speech, Mr. Ivie said that when he first saw the drop box and the orphanage, he thought, “This is the real thing. This ministry is the real thing.”

He was profoundly moved by Pastor Lee’s work. “When I started to make [this movie] and I saw all these kids come through the drop box,” Mr. Ivie said, “it was like a flash from heaven. Just like these kids with disabilities have crooked bodies, I have a crooked soul. And God loves me still. When it comes to this sanctity of life issue, we must realize that faith in God is the only refuge for people who are deemed unnecessary. This world is so much about self-reliance, self-worth, and self-esteem. It’s a total illusion that we can be self-sufficient. Christ is the only thing that enables us.”

A hand-written sign now hangs near the drop box. It reads, “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 on the street. Bring them here.”

Asked repeatedly why he cares about these little ones, Pastor Lee’s answer is simple. “Our belief is that every child deserves to live and be loved.”

And again I wonder, what am I doing to truly make a difference in the world? What should I be doing? I do not know the answer but I’m pretty sure God does.

Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.