Most people associate the words “drop box,” with the online file-sharing tool that allows users to share data across computers and smartphones from anywhere, instantly.
But for Jong-rak Lee, a pastor from Seoul, South Korea, the term has a very different meaning.
For Lee, a drop box is a way to save hundreds of unwanted infants from being abandoned on the crowded streets of Seoul each year.
A depository—literally, an oversized metal mail box—sits outside Lee’s Presbyterian church in South Korea’s capital. It is lined with a blanket and equipped with heating to keep abandoned babies safe from the cold.
The idea is to allow mothers to deposit their children without being seen.
So far, Lee has collected 652 children in his drop box. Lee and his wife are guardians of 19 children. Two of them are their biological children. For the others, a small staff helps Lee find the children homes with loving parents.
Every month, more infants arrive in the drop box — about 25 babies every month.
Some children suffer from various disabilities. But in most cases, the only thing wrong with the infants is that they are unwanted.
In Lee’s eyes, they’re all “perfect.”
Building the Drop Box
Lee created the drop box in 2009 after a third baby was left on his doorstep.
Because he was caring for his own severely disabled son at the time—and also helping others in the hospital—single mothers felt their unwanted children would be safer with Lee than they would be on the streets.
“It’s not the ultimate or ideal solution but it’s something that we have to be doing at this moment to rescue those lives,” Lee told The Daily Signal through a translator in Washington, D.C.
But in a country where adoption is stigmatized and single mothers are ostracized, Lee’s drop box serves as an irreplaceable service.
Lee’s story has inspired action. It is being re-told in ways that can reach larger audiences, and ignite more change.
After reading Lee’s story in the Los Angeles Times, Brian Ivie, a 22-year-old film student at the University of Southern California, set off to document Lee’s life.
Last week, Ivie was in Washington D.C. promoting the film.
He spoke to The Daily Signal about the film’s creation.
“I wanted to figure out where all the love came from,” Ivie said.
Admittedly, the aspiring filmmaker also saw Lee’s story as his “golden ticket” to Hollywood.
With a group of 10 friends, Ivie packed up his bags and traveled some 5,000 miles across the world to live with Lee and his orphanage.
It was an ambitious mission—making a film in a foreign country.
“Everything was so stacked against this movie working out,” said Ivie of the challenges they faced.
For one, Ivie and Lee couldn’t even communicate without a translator present.
Although they “lived like a family,” dinners were often silent.
When Ivie would interview Lee, a translator used visual cues to signal Ivie whether he was asking the right questions and triggering the emotional hot spots.
Ivie, who wasn’t religious at the time he began the journey, said that somewhere along the way, he found God.
“It was all blind, making this film,” Ivie said, adding:
[Originally] I wanted to be famous. God obviously changed that. I came back to the states and I had become a Christian, and I see this spirit of that in this man and how he sacrificed everything for these kids.
From there, Ivie forgot about becoming famous and let Lee’s story speak for itself. When he traveled back to Seoul to finish the film, Ivie said:
I was way less interested in forcing him to be who I wanted him to be, and just let him be him. And the movie got a lot better. That’s how we made the film—we focused on the people rather than the project.
The end result is a powerful 72-minute documentary that’s set to play in theaters March 3-5.
Fittingly, Ivie named it, “The Drop Box.”
Paying It Forward
As much as Ivie learned along the way, Lee, too, is grateful for the project.
By presenting the issue on a global stage, Lee hopes the story will have impact.
“I think because of the influences this documentary can have, that the Special Adoption Law—which is the main cause of the abandonment problem—can be revised,” he said.
But with new babies arriving to the depository every day, watching “The Drop Box” is not easy for Lee. The film will probably be a difficult watch for many — leaving a lingering uneasiness that may encourage more action. Lee said:
Looking at this documentary, I’m always not happy because it’s a sad reality that I have to be doing this and I really hope the day will come that the baby box will no longer will be needed.