Pastor Lee Jong-rak
One Determined Dad… meet
Pastor Lee Jong-rak
Almost every night, an alarm rings in the home of Lee Jong-rak and his wife. It signals that a baby has been dropped off in a drop box installed in the outer wall of their home to provide a safe place for babies that would otherwise be left to die on the streets. As a pastor of the Jusarang Community Church in Seoul, South Korea, he knows all to well how much perfection is heralded. Since the drop box offers a place for leaving the babies anonymously, many of the babies that Pastor Lee and his wife receive are physically or mentally handicapped. Since 2009, more than 630 babies have been saved and many have been adopted. Now, through the documentary film based on his life, The Drop Box, Pastor Lee hopes it will bring light to the 150 million orphans worldwide that are waiting to be adopted. In the United States alone, there are 100,000 children waiting for a family to call their own. With the help of a translator, Risen sat down with Pastor Lee for an exclusive interview to learn more about how he started his orphanage and the children he now calls his own.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine in San Diego, California
Risen Magazine: When you were growing up, did you ever think that you would be running an orphanage?
Pastor Lee: I never imagined that I would be running an orphanage. My grandfather was a great lover of his neighbors. He always fed people that were hungry, so I grew up watching him take care of others. I think that might have had an impact on me.
RM: When your son was born with a handicap, you blamed God. What thoughts ran through your head?
PL: We had a C-section and the doctor pulled out the baby and showed me that the baby had a huge lump on his face. The first thought that came across my mind was, “God why did you give me such an unhealthy baby?” But God didn’t waste time to convict me. In about 30 seconds, He convicted me. “Didn’t I tell you to rejoice and be thankful all the time and in all things? Don’t you know that I am the God who works through all things?” I was really convicted and I repented right then and there. We were separated right away from our baby because they had to do surgery. I couldn’t share the news with my wife right away. I told her about a week later. My wife although she cried, she took it well.
RM: If I get misty-eyed during the interview, I apologize. I have a four-month old son and these stories touch my heart.
PL: My son’s disability wasn’t as severe to begin with, but about the fourth month, the infection came. As soon as he was transported to the hospital, he couldn’t breathe. There was a lack of oxygen supply and that is when some of the damage took place. The doctors prepared us for the worst. They did everything to get him alive again but they couldn’t. I remember praying and crying out to God, “If you are going to take my son away like this, why did you give him to me? Please remember how I was obedient to You. Please remember how I followed You. Please remember your servant.” God listened to the prayers and my son’s heart started beating again. He is still alive today. But God never healed him. The lack of oxygen caused him to lose his brain functions. He is completely paralyzed and is unable to do anything on his own except blink his eyes. I thought to myself, “He looks like he is alive, but he is just as good as dead.” It was such a hard place to raise disabled children in Korea. The support is better in the United States. Also, at that time, it was so much harder. You had to give up your own career and life. But through my experience, God made me pray. He made me listen to His word. God drew me closer to Him through my son. Through the suffering, I was able to confess to God how much I loved Him. I prayed that I would become a good father and that I could take care of my son. All I could do was surrender to God. I realized that nothing is under my control. That’s when I realized it is up to God and that is when I surrendered my life and my son’s life. I could hear Him speak to me, “Trust me with your life. Do not worry about anything.” I went to a prayer mountain and just prayed. The pain turned into thanksgiving and I could live a life that glorified God.
At one point, I was raising thirteen babies under three months. I wasn’t sleeping at all!
RM: Your son spent the first 14 years of his life in the hospital. During this time, you would visit the rooms of other patients. What made you decide to do this?
PL: My son had to stay at the hospital for a long time. While he was there, I began to pray for other patients and other children. I went through different wards and a lot of good things happened. People asked me for prayer. I would tell them that they needed to believe in Jesus first. So people began to accept Christ. The number grew little by little. At one point, there were 70 people in one hospital room praying. The hospital people freaked out and said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I never invited them. They just came on their own.” They ended up providing us with a place to pray; people started repenting right there in the hospital lobby. One man, who used to be an evangelist, was now running a bar, repented and started speaking in tongues. There was a boy that had brain cancer that only had a few weeks to live. I went to the prayer mountain to pray for my own son, but God kept convicting me to pray for the boy. I ended up praying for the boy instead. I came back and his mom said that her son was healed and was being discharged. His family and I worshiped together. There was another girl who was blind and the doctors had given up on her. The grandfather asked me to pray for her. I asked him, “Do you believe in Jesus?” He said, “I used to believe and when I was young I was going to go to seminary.” I told him, “I think God is calling you back through your granddaughter.” I said, “Call all the family members.” They all came after several days. Eight people came total. Each and every one of them came to Christ. We started praying earnestly and fifteen days later she could see! That is when I received my calling to share the Gospel.
RM: You met a woman who asked you to take her paralyzed granddaughter. You came up with a bargain that if you agreed to take her in, she would convert to Christianity. How did you decide that you were going to take her in and what made you think to come up with the bargain?
PL: She came up to me at the hospital and said, “I’ve seen you at the hospital taking care of your son. My granddaughter has the same symptoms.” She shared, “I don’t have too many days left, but there is no else to take care of my granddaughter. Everyone in my family has disabilities.” She said, “Please take care of my granddaughter after I die and I will believe in Jesus.” That was the condition that she proposed. I couldn’t believe what she was asking. I was already overwhelmed by taking care of my own son. I couldn’t think of taking care of anyone else. I didn’t think it was right for her to ask me and put conditions. But she said she would believe in Jesus. I could not say no to her because of that. So I very reluctantly shared the Gospel with her. I wasn’t rejoicing. But it was God’s plan to save her and God’s plan to save her granddaughter through this.
The next year, the grandmother passed away. I hadn’t told my wife about the deal. So I prayed, “We are already struggling so much with our son. Is this really Your will God? If so, comfort my wife and deal with her heart so she can welcome this girl too.” When I shared with my wife, she responded, “If that is what God wants then that is what we should do.” I was so relieved. When the girl came, I still remember how my wife held her and prayed for her. That’s how our ministry began. She was the first one we adopted. Then children who had been abandoned by their parents started coming to us.
There was a couple that was going to get a divorce because they had a disabled child. I said, “Do not get a divorce; give the child to me.” I tried to convince them to keep their child for about six months through counseling. They weren’t able to, so I ended up taking the baby. Some of our children are adopte d. Some we are fostering. We started the baby box after a girl came in the middle of the night in a fishing box. She was freezing. I was fearful that we wouldn’t get to the babies in time. In Korea, it gets very cold at night. So we decided that we needed to do something to protect the babies from the cold and stray cats.
RM: When people brought their children to you, did you ever have any hesitations or second thoughts?
PL: There is really no time or room for second thoughts. We have to go rescue the babies right away. I think of them as my children that God has prepared and given to me. It is something my wife and I have agreed to.
RM: There has been some pushback from the government with your orphanage. How have you and your wife responded to this?
PL: We have no means or reason to fight against them. We just go to God. God has been protecting us. God’s shield is impenetrable. They criticize us and in a way persecute us. But nothing we do changes because of that. We are to rescue and protect lives. That cannot be stopped no matter what. No matter what kind of pressure or criticisms we may face, we have to focus on the babies that are dying. I have to serve these babies night and day. At one point, I was raising thirteen babies under three months. I wasn’t sleeping at all! Volunteers come during the day and I was able to rest. So far 630 babies have gone through the baby box. We see about 25 babies per month since 2012.
RM: What do you hope to accomplish by your story being told through the movie?
PL: My ultimate goal through this movie is that the baby box would be closed, meaning that it would no longer be needed because children would not be abandoned. The unborn need to be protected. The mothers need to be taken care of. That kind of world and society is what I dream of.