Brian Ivie’s documentary The Drop Box is an emotional balancing act: on one side is the heartbreaking fact that millions of children are abandoned at birth around the world every year. On the other side is the triumphant story of The Drop Box’s Pastor Lee Jong-rak, pastor of Jusarang (God’s Love) Community Church in Seoul, South Korea.
Pastor Lee’s family and a handful of volunteers work to provide a home for over a dozen mildly to severely disabled children (including Pastor Lee’s son), and since December 2009, they have saved the lives of hundreds of abandoned newborns through their “baby box.”
The concept and apparatus are simple: mothers who are unable to care for their children, as often for social reasons as economic ones in Seoul, can leave their babies in the box for Pastor Lee to care for. The box itself is like a cupboard: the baby is placed inside a padded, heated compartment, and when the door shuts a bell rings to alert the house.
Pastor Lee stays up most nights to listen for the bell, and the first thing he does after carefully lifting a baby from the box is kneel to pray. He’ll then get the baby to a hospital and pass him or her on to an orphanage or adoption agency.
The process is remarkably seamless. The mothers remain anonymous, the child is immediately given care, and the box is open to any who need it. But the work has complications. Many of the children are disabled, and the lack of records makes hospital visits challenging. Pastor Lee’s own health has suffered from his tireless work ethic. And there are all the children who live with the Lees permanently, most of whom need constant care. From the film’s perspective, though, none of these struggles are too great that they cannot be banished by a slobbery, chubby-cheeked smile.
And here’s where The Drop Box doesn’t do well balancing a larger emotional question in the controversy surrounding baby boxes across the globe, not just in South Korea. The film comes right up to the issue, showing bits of news segments and interviewing a number of adoption agency and orphanage workers. “Do these unwanted children’s lives matter?” is a question the film wants to take seriously but can’t, because its answer is heartwarmingly obvious from the start.
So, the film acts best as a depiction of Pastor Lee and his church’s work for these children; the sheer number of babies they rescue and the lifestyle they provide for the ones in their care is a powerful enough message. The movie doesn’t prove that these kids are worthwhile; it just shows that they are, and that’s the most beautiful part.
Jessica Gibson is an intern with Christianity Today Movies and a student at The King’s College in New York City.