When a life filled with love is captured in a film of faith, Christians nationwide bear witness to God’s work and the realities of unconditional love.
The persistent sound of a buzzing alarm announces another arrival at Pastor Lee Jong-rak’s ramshackle house in Seoul, South Korea. Hearing the sound, the pastor rushes toward what appears to be a large mail drop box set into the wall of his laundry room. He opens the latch and lifts out a tiny baby, an infant who is blind, deaf and paralyzed. Carefully withdrawing the crying bundle from the depository, Pastor Lee prays, “Dear Father, I pray this child will know You and live with You and will find a family to love her.” Unlike many of the hundreds of babies abandoned in the streets of South Korea every day, the infant in the pastor’s arms is safe and secure. She is one of the lucky ones whose mother found the Baby Box, a drop box Pastor Lee built into the side of his home. The box—the first of its kind in South Korea—is a place of rescue for unwanted and disabled infants.
Since 2009, more than 600 children have been left in the Baby Box. Typically, their mothers are unwed and overwhelmed in a society that isn’t always tolerant of those who have babies out of wedlock. If not for the Baby Box, these children may have been abandoned to die by mothers who feel ashamed and afraid.
Pastor Lee says of the babies, “They’re not the unnecessary ones in the world. God sent them to the earth to use them.”
Faith is a Journey
Years before Lee built the Baby Box, God began shaping Lee for this ministry with the birth of his only biological son. The boy, Eun-man (which means “full of God’s grace”), had severe deformities and brain damage.
Though Lee first questioned his own faith, he quickly came to rely on God. As he grew in compassion and understanding, he became known as the “lover of the unlovable.” His love for Eun-man inspired Lee to become a pastor as a way to reach out to others in need.
Lee and his wife have adopted nine babies and care for 15 others. Challenges abound. Some are so disabled they’ll never be off breathing tubes. Each of these children is very needy—and very blessed to have found a family that loves them.
One of the children Lee took in was the brain-damaged daughter of a 14-year-old substance abuser. Six years later, the child died. Devastated by her death, Lee vowed to never turn away another disabled child. Inspired by the Lord, Lee built the Baby Box.
The Real Star Takes Center Stage
On June 20, 2011, the work of Pastor Lee caught the attention of University of Southern California film student Brian Ivie. While reading an article about the Baby Box in the Los Angeles Times, Brian wondered, “How does something like this exist? Why does this need to happen?” These questions haunted the aspiring director.
“This man was showing me real courage,” said Brian, who was not a Christian at the time. “He’d built a bunker for babies and was defending them with his whole life. I wanted to know more.”
The Baby Box story had come along at the right moment. Several of Brian’s student projects had already been rejected by film festivals across the nation. The Baby Box story could be a winner.
It took more than a month and a series of emails for Brian to secure Lee’s invitation to Korea, though Brian had no idea how he’d get there. Undaunted, he wrote, “See you soon.”
To pay his way, he initiated a fundraising campaign at kickstarter.com. Originally he intended to request $5,000. Moments before posting, he changed the amount to $20,000, a goal he was able to reach. Matching funds quickly multiplied it to $60,000. Another contact contributed $50,000 worth of camera equipment. This project was bigger than Brian, and he knew it.
During Christmas break 2011, Brian, eight college students and two high school kids flew across the Pacific to make a 10-minute film. At that point Pastor Lee “was a plot device in the story of me,” Brian says. Using such descriptors as “articulate,” “warm smile,” “great on camera,” Brian discovered Lee was as engaging as an actor at a casting call.
Then Brian saw God’s love in action. “It wasn’t this heavy thing that Pastor Lee explained. He only knew two English words, love and coffee, and I knew no Korean. It was the way he lived his life in complete and utter sacrifice. That went against everything I thought love was. I thought love was something chemical that you felt in your body. But Pastor Lee gave his whole body, his whole soul to these kids.”
A Pathway to Dreams
After his return home, Brian studied videotapes of every infant ever placed in the box. “At first I pitied these children, but then realized, I was one of these broken kids, too. They have disabilities and deformities, but so did I—only mine were hidden inside my heart. Pastor Lee showed me that the Father wanted me even in my brokenness. Despite my porn addiction, a heart full of anger and problems with my girlfriend, God loved me and could use me to help others—like He did with Eun-man.”
Accepting Christ as his Savior, Brian finally understood why his Christian friend and filmmaking partner, Will Tober, was so authentic. Their late-night theological discussions had already resolved many biblical issues. Brian’s heart readily grasped the truth that the closer he drew to God, the more clearly he would understand his own life. After he began living according to a biblical world view, his porn addiction and anger problems were healed.
As his faith ignited, Brian came to a surprising realization about his movie: It barely scratched the surface. It had to be a full-length film to explain the Baby Box and reveal God the Father’s heart. He and his crew returned to Korea for more shooting.
The finished production, called The Drop Box, was the winner Brian believed it would be. At the 2013 San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, the movie captured the $101,000 Best of the Festival award.
Demonstrating his deep admiration for Lee’s work, Brian donated $50,000 of the prize money to the pastor’s ministry.
Brian, too, was adopted—brought into the family of God. Now, less than two years into his Christian walk, he has gained a sense of purpose far beyond filmmaking.
It’s a Wrap
With the success of The Drop Box, Brian Ivie, Will Tober and Bryce Komae have formed Arbella Studios, a for-profit movie company dedicated to stories that expose the heart to its most desperate need—Jesus Christ. Currently in production is The Jesus Revolution, the untold story of the last great awakening in the United States.
With Brian’s share of winnings from the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, the team also started a Christian nonprofit called Kindred Image. This ministry is dedicated to supporting the vision and legacy of Pastor Lee in helping single mothers and their disabled children. Lee’s ministry includes crisis counseling, care packages and plans to build a new facility for holistic care. For more information, visit kindredimage.org