Toward the end of last month, one of the most meaningful fundraisers took place at the Tagylan Cultural Center, not too far from Koreatown in Los Angeles. It was a fundraising gala hosted by MPAK, a non-profit that advocates for the adoption of homeless children, to support Jusarang Community, the home of the famous "Dropbox," and a shelter and home for abandoned babies and children. Some 300 attended the gala, and some $100,000 was raised that night. The story of Jusarang Community was covered by the Los Angeles Times, which was later discovered by Brian Ivie who created and directed the documentary film, The Dropbox. The following is the message that Reverend Jong-Rak Lee, who leads Jusarang Community, shared during the gala's keynote address, organized in a Q&A format.
Q: Could you introduce yourself? What was your background like growing up?
A: I used to be a person who loves to pick fights with people. In my twenties, I moved up to Seoul from the countryside in South Korea, and started a job there, but one night I went drinking with my coworkers and beat up my boss while I was drunk. That incident led to my losing that job, and after a time of difficulty, I was able to find another job. On the first day of that new job, I participated in a worship service there, and heard a sermon about St. Augustine. Some time after that, one of my superiors asked me to lead a corporate prayer during one of those work worship services, and for someone who didn't believe in Jesus, I was shocked by the request, to say the least. I repeated a process of writing down a prayer and ripping it up for several days. And as the day that I was supposed to lead prayer came, and the worship service began, my heart started to pound. It was my turn to pray and I stood up, but I couldn't read any of the words on my paper. I said, "Father God," but after that, no other words would come out but all these tears started flowing. A coworker nudged me and I said, "In Jesus' name I pray, amen," and I sat down, and I just kept crying. But my coworkers approached me and said that the prayer really blessed them. It was from that point that God started to touch my hardened heart.
Q: How did you come to believe in Jesus?
A: After that incident, I wanted to start going to church and living as a Christian, but that very week an incident occurred. My personality was very aggressive and I got into another fight with a coworker. The coworker had to go to the hospital, and I went to the CEO's office to submit a written apology for what happened. After the CEO read the letter, he said to me, "I think if you were to believe in Jesus, you would be used in a great and mighty way by God." So I said that I wanted to believe in Jesus. And he took my hands and he prayed for me. It was a prayer of blessing, that God would use me in great ways to be a comforter for many. I started going out to church after that, and from the very first day of church, I was so touched. I was crying the entire service. I met the Lord during a revival service led by Reverend Chun-Suk Lee. I repented of my sins and I asked the Lord to use me. I experienced the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Q: I heard you've endured through many hardships.
A: After praying earnestly for two years, my wife and I had our daughter and then our son, Eun-Man, but he was born with severe disabilities. And I thought, "If you were going to give us a son, you should've given us a good one," blaming God for what happened. But at that very moment, a Bible verse passed through my mind. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances." And I immediately repented for my lack of faith, and I prayed, "Lord, glorify yourself through this son." Three to four months later, a malignant tumor was found in one of my son's lymph nodes, and he was about to die. The doctors said that nothing they were trying was working. And I prayed desperately in the hospital asking God to save my son. Even though the doctors told me numerous times that it wouldn't work out, God who is the giver of life worked miraculously to save Eun-Man. But Eun-Man's breath was cut off for too long, so his brain had severe impairments and the doctors said he would have to live paralyzed for the rest of his life. I went up to the mountain and I prayed with tears. And the Lord allowed my heart to burn, and I had this confidence that we would be able to overcome this extreme hardship. I always prayed in the hospital, and soon, patients and parents of patients around us would come to us asking for prayers. And after that, our whole room started to pray together. During the 14 years we spent in the hospital, I was just a lay leader in the church but I lived like a chaplain there. We experienced many miracles of healing.
Q: How did you start Jusarang Community?
A: At the hospital, an 82-year-old grandmother came up to me with a request to take care of her granddaughter after she passes away. Just like our son, her granddaughter, named Sang-Hee, was paralyzed and had wires and tubes all over her body. There was no one who could take care of her. So I said yes to try to help her believe in Jesus. And after she passed away, Sang-Hee came to our home. I didn't even get to tell my wife about it beforehand. But she just quietly embraced he child. And that was the beginning of our community of children with disabilities. After that, stories of children would come to us one by one. Stories of children who were born with disabilities and abandoned by their parents.
Q: How did you start the "dropbox"?
A: On a cold, windy spring night in 2007, we got a call at around 3:20 AM. "I'm sorry, please take care of this child," the person said. We went outside and there was a child in a box, and a cat was lingering around it. And as I carried the child up the stairs, I noticed the child was cold as ice from hypothermia, and I thought, "In the worst case scenario, we might stumble upon a dead baby in front of our door. I should make a safe space for them." So in 2009, I made a space in our wall, and created a bell to ring when a baby was put in the space. And I prayed earnestly to God that the children who would be put in this 'baby box' would not be abandoned, and that God would only use this box for the children who would die otherwise. And three months later, the first child came through that box.
Q: What happened thereafeter?
A: The day that that first child came through the baby box, there were five of us in the Jusarang Community, and we all just wept together. And we named the baby Moses. We thanked God that, like Moses, this baby was about to die, but that He saved him through the baby box. The baby was later adopted into a pastor's family and is doing well today. In 2012, the adoption exemption laws in South Korea were amended, and it became more difficult for unwed mothers to give up their children for adoption, so children started flooding into Jusarang Community. We saw about a nine- to ten-fold increase in children. And over the past five years, 821 babies were protected through the baby box. The baby box has become a refuge for babies and a protection against abortion. I'm thankful that God uses a nobody to do His work.
Q: Is there a specific message you'd like to share with Korean Americans?
A: Every life is precious -- regardless of from whom or how the child was born. Laws and institutions are important, but what is most important is the life of a person. Other than being a safe place for people with disabilities, Jusarang Community is also working to fight abortion, provide counseling and support for single mothers, and family counseling as well. I hope that Korean Americans would also participate in supporting and adopting children.
This article was translated from Korean to English. For the original, visit kr.christianitydaily.com.