Children do not choose to be born and when they do, they should be loved and provided for by their community no matter what the circumstances. Sadly, this is not always the case. According to UNICEF, in 2004 there were over 143 million orphaned and abandoned children in 93 developing countries worldwide. That’s 8.4 % off all children in the world and the numbers have likely risen. But there is one man who has worked hard to change that, at least in his community in Seoul, South Korea. This is the story of Pastor Lee Jong-rak and his benevolent Baby Box.
A selfless calling
Pastor Lee Jong-rak and his wife Chun-ja had always wanted children, and when their prayers were answered it at first seemed more than they had bargained for. Their son, Eun-man, was born with cerebral palsy and a severely disfigured face and was given just five months to live. Despite the hardships they would have to face, they loved their son very much and spent the next 14 years in and out of hospitals to give him the life he deserved. It was here that their path changed forever. An elderly woman who had been taking care of her paralyzed granddaughter at the same hospital, fearing the child would be uncared for when she passed, asked the Pastor if he would take her in. Pastor Lee Jong-rak could not refuse the old woman and so began their journey as foster parents.
Guardian of the deserted
One cold April night, the Pastor received a phone call from a woman frantically apologising and telling him she had left her baby on the doorstep of his Jusarang Community Church. By the time the Pastor got to the baby, it died in his arms from hypothermia. With hundreds of babies being discarded in rubbish bins and train stations in Seoul every year, he decided to take matters in his own hands and created a Baby Box, modelled after one made in the Czech Republic. It was with this creation that he hoped to prevent from any more lives being lost to abandonment in his community again.
The Baby Box
In 2009, Pastor Lee Jong-rak installed a cubicle equipped with a motion sensor, heating and light in which unwanted children could be deposited. Attached to his own home, the Baby Box was programmed to notify the inhabitants of the house when a baby was placed inside. Since that fateful day, over 1,500 children have passed through the Baby Box who would have otherwise died if left on the streets. The abandoned children, who tend to be either mentally or physically challenged, are cared for in the Pastor’s home, placed in orphanages or foster homes and even sometimes happily reunited with their parents, who are given the necessary education and support to take care of a special needs child.
All lives matter
With the release of Biran Ivie’s documentary called The Drop Box, much awareness has been raised about child abandonment in South Korea, especially that of disabled children, due to financial and social pressures. Donations to the Jusarang Community Church following the release of the movie has helped relocate the children in care to a larger housing facility. Pastor Lee Jong-rak continues to save the unwanted children of Seoul, but his ultimate desire is for the Baby Box to become a relic of the past. He dreams of a world and society in which all children are protected and cared for, and no child is ever given up. As sad as this story is, it’s people like Pastor Lee Jong-rak that restore our faith in humanity, give us hope for the future and teach us the limitless power of love.