A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blog on disability, and included a quote from Pastor Lee Jong-rak: “Disabled children teach many people, change many people, and help people reflect upon themselves, which is why they are the educators of society.”
This quote was taken from the promotional materials for the documentary The Drop Box, which centers on Pastor Lee, who gained significant media attention for his efforts to care for abandoned, often disabled children in South Korea, namely through the baby ‘drop box’ installed in the side of his home for disabled children. It looks like a mailbox, or a place to donate clothes. However, it is furnished with blankets, temperature control and a pressure sensor. And it doesn’t receive clothes or books, but instead babies that would more than likely otherwise be abandoned on the streets, in trashcans, or even in toilets.
I had read about Pastor Lee and his children’s home almost a year ago, and was ecstatic to hear that a documentary was going to be released on it. My original plans to see it fell through unfortunately, so I resigned myself to waiting until it came out on DVD. This past week however, they reopened it for an encore showing, and I immediately bought my ticket, completely disregarding the fact that it was showing on a Monday night.
I can’t say I broke down or was a complete sobbing mess. But movies rarely have that effect on me anyway—I know they’re good when they manage to make me tear up. And when it came to The Drop Box, I was in a constant state of tearing up throughout the entire movie.
It was more than emotions though. It also convicted me the whole way through. Some movies, when done especially well, manage to pull my heartstrings this way and that. But this documentary struck at not only my emotions, but also what I understood to be true.
Some of the main critiques against Pastor Lee and the drop box are that his efforts are not sustainable, or that they encourage mothers to abandon their children, or that they don’t provide a way for children to reach out to their biological mothers in the future. The documentary addresses these arguments with grace and introspection, with the interviewees giving thoughtful answers. For example, even if the drop box were to be removed, babies would still be abandoned. They would just be abandoned in worse conditions, with smaller chances of survival.
But they are also frank that it’s not a perfect solution. Due to his nonstop work, Pastor Lee’s health is fragile, and there are no successors yet in sight who are willing to step up to the challenge of pouring themselves out to such extent. There are a huge number of children, sometimes severely disabled and in need of advanced healthcare, and not a whole lot of resources to sufficiently provide and care for them. The Drop Box provides no concrete outlines or plans of action that will fix all the logistics that need to be fixed, probably because there is no perfect plan—not with the many complicated factors that need to be addressed, and Pastor Lee and his coworkers’ lacking of resources.
So there is no tangible answer or solution that can be yet be presented. But what The Drop Box does is go less tangible, but deeper than logistics. The Drop Box succeeds at presenting the culture and perceptions of mind that need to be changed for abandonment to finally cease.
And again, what this comes down to is whom exactly we decide to perceive as human—in this case, whether or not we will perceive the disabled as humans. I just wrote a blog not too long ago about the need to perceive disabled people differently in a society that values independence, looks and self-sufficiency. But I still found myself wincing when the documentary showed Pastor Lee vacuuming the saliva out of his disabled 26-year old son’s throat. I still found myself pitying Eun-chan, for having only been able to lie down his entire life, without speaking or walking. I even found myself wondering what purpose he could live out in such disability.
And then I found myself severely convicted when Brian Ivie, the filmmaker, asked Eun-chan’s younger adopted brother, Ryuju if he thought his older brother’s life served any purpose.
“Of course,” he said, stroking Eun-chan’s head, “He made the way for the baby box to be made. Because of him, babies were saved.”
Pastor Lee even admitted than when Eun-chan was first born, he prayed, asking the Lord why He had given him a disabled baby. “I wasn’t grateful for this baby,” he said. Now he attributes the creation and success of the baby box to what raising and caring for Eun-chan taught him about disability and worth—what the preciousness of life meant in the eyes of God. The compassion and conviction he experienced and learned when caring for his biological son opened his heart to caring for the many unwanted and left on his doorstep. “I would die for these children,” he said, nodding his head emphatically.
And there is exactly where The Drop Box provides the less tangible, but true solution to the ending of abandonment. I don’t believe that the team behind The Drop Box skirted issues that need to be addressed. Instead I think they cut straight to the deepest, most human, and most necessary issues that require change. Logistics and plans concerning government funding and guardianship may be a big band-aid, but they will still only be a band-aid, no matter how big or effective they are. For what needs to be addressed is not merely how to respond to abandonment, but what will it take for babies to stop be abandoned.
What will change things in the end is when these children don’t simply remain problems, throwaways or financial burdens, but instead become our own. What will change things is when we will die for these children, because we have seen and been convicted of their worth and value. And this is not dying for them just in the physical sense, but in the biblical sense, in that we die to ourselves. Our sense of self-priority dies, along with our need to secure our own goals, our own finances, and our own securities. What will change things is when we ourselves change for the better.
If this indeed is the solution, may we all be convicted.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”– Matthew 16:24-27