“War in Heaven”: A review of “The Drop Box”

“I adopt others because God adopted me,” says pastor Lee Jong-rak, whose work on behalf of abandoned babies in Seoul is depicted in this powerful film

MPAA Rating: NR
USCCB Rating:
Reel Rating:  (5 out of 5)

In the last few years, there have been numerous movies dealing with pro-life topics that have ranged in quality from okay (October Baby, Bella) to pretty good (Juno, Gimmie Shelter), but all failing to hit the bulls-eye directly. The Drop Box hits it dead center, and it does so by simply showing the truth. The Drop Box is a documentary that follows a Korean pastor who builds a sort-of “mailbox” with an alarm for desperate women to anonymously drop off infants instead of abandoning them in the streets, a not uncommon practice.

Director Brian Ivie takes what could have been a rather dreary topic and makes it infinitely accessible, forceful enough to demand change but lighthearted enough to be enjoyable on a Saturday night date with popcorn and soda. The Drop Box is, I think, one of the best films of the decade so far.

In the 1970s, Lee Jong-rak was a Protestant seminary student in South Korea, so skinny he earned the nickname “fish bones.” He freely admits learning the guitar simply to attract girls and soon earned the reputation of being a ladies’ man despite no actual experience. After school, he married and started a small church in the capital city of Seoul. His life changed dramaticaly when his first son Eun was born with several serious deformities. Eun would spend the next fourteen years in the hospital, and Lee eventually sold his house to pay for the medical bills.

Several years later, Lee discovered an abandoned baby girl outside the church gate; she had been exposed to the cold for several hours and almost froze to death. He began to search for a way to help those poor souls, especially ones with disabilities. He came up with the idea for his Drop Box after seeing similar devices in the Czech Republic, based in part on medieval monasteries which cared for infants left on the doorstep.

The documentary not only looks at Lee’s solution but examines the serious social injustices that lead to such an inhumane practice as abandonment. One factor is the serious stigma surrounding unwed mothers. For example, girls in school who are discovered to be pregnant are often expelled or beaten by their relatives. One woman tells Lee over the phone that she is planning to “poison herself and the baby.” Fortunately, he talks her out of it.     

Every frame of this film radiates human dignity. When Lee discovers a new baby, he immediately prays over her, thanking God for another gift. Many of these babies have serious health problems, and Lee is commonly told that “it would be better if they just died.” “No,” he replies calmly. “They teach us.” His strong pro-life ethic comes not just from personal experience as a direct fruit of his Christian faith. “I adopt others because God adopted me,” he explains at the end.

Most of the infants will enter state run orphanages or foster care, but if they cannot be placed, Lee and his wife will often adopt them and now boasts a family size rivaled only by the Duggars. These little miracles fill his house with endless joy. One child with only four functional fingers trains in karate and was recently elected president of his fourth grade class. Another four-year-old boy with only one hand uses his stump to hold down a Christmas present while he gleefully unwraps it. Rarely is anyone not smiling.

Pastor Lee is a saintly man, a symbol of Christ present in this world. He has given up everything this world has to offer for the sake of these children, a life that is “foolishness to the Gentiles.” He shares not only in Christ’s sufferings, but His death as well. Lee suffers greatly from diabetes and high blood pressure, exasperated by the fact he rarely gets a full night’s sleep with babies being dropped off nearly every night. He is dying for these children. His efforts bring to mind the singular devotion to the poor demonstrated by Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

Dr. Martin Luther King said that “in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” The Drop Box illustrates how a Protestant minister, with no direct connection to apostolic Christianity or even a mainline denomination, is storming the gates of Heaven at full speed. Meanwhile in rich and comfortable America, many Catholics are not only apathetic to the plight of the unborn but actively and unapologetically pro-choice. It is a scandal of the highest order.

Lee’s simple smile should call all Catholics – anyone with a pulse, really – to righteous militancy. Catholics must end this genocide in our own country and rescue as many victims along the way, child and mother alike. In Korea, women do not abort nearly as much as in the United States, preferring abandonment. It’s still inhumane but at least there’s a chance for life and love.

The best line in The Drop Box occurs right at the beginning when one of Lee’s children describes his home. “It’s like Heaven,” he explains. “People are walking around like angels. But suddenly the alarm goes off and everything changes. Everybody is rushing; it’s like a war – a war in Heaven.” I’ve never heard a better explanation of the beatific vision outside the Bible, when the hosts of Heaven rush to the immediate aid of the faithful on Earth. Lee and his ever-expanding family are living the Kingdom of God.

This Kingdom includes someone very close to me — my sister Dorothy, adopted from the same city where Pastor Lee operates. She too had a spinal condition that made her difficult to place, but my parents loved her immediately. Today, she is a vibrant, funny, confident young woman with much better social skills and fashion taste than myself, now wrapping up a year with AmeriCore serving the most vulnerable of our society. 

Her life matters. Everyone’s life matters. Please see this film. Please, please see this film.

Related on CWR: “‘The Drop Box’: Saving Unwanted Babies, Changing Hearts”: An interview with filmmaker Brian Ivie, by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Nick Olszyk 205 Articles
Nick Olszyk teaches theology at Marist Catholic High School in Eugene, Oregon. He was raised on bad science fiction movies, jelly beans, and TV shows that make fun of bad science fiction movies. Visit him online and listen to his podcast at "Catholic Cinema Crusade".