- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2015

The special door chime on the house in Seoul can ring day or night. The instant it is heard, the adults jump and rush to the wall where the “drop box” is located.

When they gently lower the door, they typically find a tightly bundled baby inside.

The mother usually is not seen: She — or whoever is abandoning the child — opens a door outside the home, places the child in the drop box and closes the door, triggering the alarm.

Pastor Jong-rak Lee and the others who have come running carefully unwrap and cuddle the baby even as they search to see what he or she needs. The baby may be healthy or may be disabled. No matter, each child is greeted with prayer: “Thank you, God, for saving this child’s life.”

More than 600 South Korean babies have been rescued by Mr. Lee’s ministry.

A documentary, “The Drop Box,” is scheduled to be shown in hundreds of U.S. theaters for three days this week starting Tuesday.

Half of the movie’s proceeds will go to Kindred Image, a nonprofit group that seeks to build an orphanage and mothers program with Mr. Lee’s Jusarang Community Church in Seoul.

The other half will go to Focus on the Family’s Wait No More program, which is working with adoption agencies and churches to find homes for tens of thousands of children in U.S. foster care.

The goal is “to really raise awareness of the plight of unwanted children,” Focus on the Family President Jim Daly said in an interview at the National Prayer Breakfast last month.

“Something that we want to lift up is that every life is valuable, everyone deserves dignity,” said Mr. Daly, who spent a year in foster care as a child. “Pastor Lee isn’t just talking about it; he is doing it. He’s there for those kids.”

Countless South Korean babies have lost their lives after being left in streets or other places — often by unwed mothers. If a “drop box” baby comes with a note, it almost always says something like, “I am sorry. I am so sorry.”

Because infants and small children are abandoned around the world, the makers and supporters of “The Drop Box” hope the film will show the value of all lives.

“Because I’m a quadriplegic in a wheelchair and strong advocate for people with disabilities internationally, what Pastor Lee is doing to rescue children with disabilities from abandonment, starvation and death, to me, is an awesome miracle of God’s compassion,” Joni Eareckson Tada, founder of the Joni and Friends International Disabilities Center, told The Washington Times.

“Children with disabilities are on the lowest possible socioeconomic rung on anybody’s ladder, in any country,” she said. “They suffer the most abuse and neglect, and so I am glad that this movie is bringing attention to that.”

South Korea has strong stigmas against unwed childbearing, raising a child as a single parent and adoption, said Susan Soon-keum Cox, vice president of public policy and external affairs at Holt International Children’s Services, the oldest and largest intercountry adoption agency.

Moreover, South Korea passed a law a few years ago requiring mothers to register their newborns so that children can have birth records, she said. But the law has had unintended consequences — mothers are abandoning their newborns in the streets because they “are too afraid to take the risk of putting their name on a family registry.”

“What Pastor Lee has done with the baby box is respond to a really desperate situation,” said Ms. Cox, who was adopted as a child from Korea after the war. The concept shows that while these babies have been abandoned by their mothers, “they have really been abandoned by Korean society,” she said.

To Mr. Lee, the solution is for the sense of shame to be “overcome by the sanctity of life.”

“How precious life is in God’s eyes,” said the 60-year-old pastor, who also attended the National Prayer Breakfast and spoke through translator J.C. Park.

“Once [people] understand that, and have respect for life, the culture of life will be created so people will follow that and overcome shame,” Mr. Lee said.

South Korea’s social and legal structure also can change, he said, “so we can be a society where moms can raise their children.”

Mr. Lee said he and his wife, Chun-ja, have 19 children in their home. Many “drop box” children go to institutions, but some are returned to their families.

About 140 babies “have been reclaimed” and “another 25 families are being supported by us to maintain and sustain children,” said Mr. Lee, adding that another church has created a drop box.

“The drop box is not just a box: There’s counseling and intervention,” said filmmaker and director Brian Ivie, a co-founder of Kindred Image who visited South Korea several times to make the documentary.

Mr. Ivie said that, in addition to the 700 theaters in the United States and dozens more in Canada airing the documentary, the goal is to broadcast the film on South Korean television because that is where it would get the most attention.

Mr. Lee said his own son, Eun-man, who has cerebral palsy, prepared him for his ministry. His family’s tender care for their child became known in the neighborhood, and disabled children began to be left at their doorstep.

One night in 2009, a baby girl almost froze to death before the Lees found her. The discovery prompted a flood of prayers and thoughts, which turned into the idea of a having a blanketed, heated and lighted space that could safely receive a child, day or night.

Today, the drop box bears the words, “Place to Leave Babies,” and Psalm 27:10: “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.”

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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