Sunday, 21 May 2017

Pastor Lee Jong-rak - the baby box.

When Richard Dawkins was asked about what to do if one is to discover that her unborn child has Down syndrome, the atheist extraordinaire tweeted: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

That Trump-like tweet is partly defensible because he said that many had done just that. Every year, worldwide, hundreds of fetuses are aborted on that ground. It is one painful reality that parents understandably don’t want to talk about.

But it is the second part of Dawkins' tweet that is harder for me to come to terms with. He charged parents who decide to keep the child as making an immoral choice.

When his tweet was met with protests from moms with children with Down syndrome, it reports that Dawkins "defended his view, saying he would not apologize “for approaching moral philosophic questions in a logical way.""

To Dawkins, it is more logical to end the fetus' viable life since the parents still have a choice rather than to allow the parents and child to suffer together (or worse, become society's burden). Dawkins' cold logic has a somewhat mythical Spartan feel to it where defective or unhealthy births are rumored to have been thrown off the cliff.

This brings me to a pastor in South Korea named Lee Jong-rak. I recently watch a documentary about his life and ministry. He saves babies, especially newborn. His house church called Jusarang (“God’s love”) Community Church has a baby box at a discreet sidewall where abandoned babies are placed to be taken care of by him and his wife.

Above the baby box is a scripture that reads: "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in." (Psalm 27:10).

Pastor Lee started the baby box in 2009 and thus far, he has taken in more than 600 abandoned babies. He does not take this calling lightly. If not for his tireless devotion to care for the babies, they would freeze to their death on the streets. At one time, Pastor Lee had as many as 20 adopted children under his care. And mind you, this is not an easy ministry.

Most times, the teenage mothers abandoned the newborn in the night or early in the morning. This means that Pastor Lee has to forgo his sleep to pick, pray and prepare the babies by snipping off their umbilical cords and washing them up. You can thus forget about having an uninterrupted sleep. But that’s not the hard part.

They are unwanted babies born out of wedlock and most of them have some birth defects. They have disabilities like Down syndrome, encephalitis, congenital facial deformity, blindness, deafness and missing hands and fingers.

So, it is a full time job round the clock to care for them, bring them to the hospital, medicate them and give them the love and attention they need. And Pastor Lee’s passion for them is exceptional in this department.

This is on top of taking care of his son, Eun-man. Pastor Lee's son (now in his late twenties) was born with crippling cerebral palsy. Eun-man spent about 14 years of his life in a hospital and Pastor Lee had to sell off his house to pay for his son's medical fees. For a period, he practically stayed and slept in the hospital to accompany Eun-man.

If there is a Christian who had counted the Cross and carried it with him in this long heart-rending journey, Pastor Lee is one of them. His life and sacrifices are like a bright city on the hill.

In the 2014 documentary, Pastor Lee expressed his concern for the future. He said he is getting old, at about 60 then, and his health is failing him. He is afraid that he has no one to pass the baton over when he is no longer around.

Alas, his heart is always with the babies whose mothers have left behind. He once made a vow that he will give his life for them. He would be their parent, guardian and mentor.

When asked why he adopted them as his own, since they are more than a handful to take care considering their serious disabilities, Pastor Lee simply replied that it was because God had adopted him as his own.

Christian author Donald Miller said this about Pastor Lee: "I can't think of another modern example that so perfectly encapsulates Christian faith." Pastor Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love, remarked: "Exposes us to a true hero and a worthy example to follow."

Let me return to Dawkins' tweet in the beginning of this post as I bring it to a close. Recall he said, “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”

Now, I am not trying to compare Pastor Lee and Professor Dawkins. Neither am I putting Christianity and Atheism together for distinction, as that would be unfair. God knows that such exercise is often self-defeating, self-serving. Callousness cuts across both domains. Sometimes, you just can’t tell an atheist apart from a Christian or a Christian from an atheist.

Anyway, it is really not about religion or how religious one acts. It is not about the big gleaming churches and the masses that come in tens of thousands to worship their God. And it is also not about how rich and impressive the churches or messages are.

If the simple life of Pastor Lee has taught me anything, it is that love conquers all. Like Jesus said, love overcomes. And he comes closest to demonstrating how love transforms, regardless.

There is no delusion in love. It never gives up because love is not motivated by results as the world sees it. It is driven by the intangible – that is, faith, hope and even joy in suffering.

To love, a life is a life. It is precious and treasured not because it is physically and mentally perfect. On the contrary, it is because of his/her imperfections that love abounds even more.

And love changes things. It changes circumstances, deepens our humanity and gives us extraordinary strength and resilience. In the end, the difference that love makes make every choice we make morally courageous, morally inspiring and morally empowering. It is therefore love that makes all things perfect.

So, the second part of Dawkins’ tweet is what I do not agree. It is not an immoral choice to keep the child. Ultimately, the parent has to decide and it is a respectfully private matter. It is the parent who has to confront the challenges ahead, and not us. They can sure try again, and it is a choice only they will have to make.

But keeping the child is not an immoral choice because Pastor Lee kept his son and many others whose parent(s) have given up on. And most of them do not come in as a “perfect” bundle of joy. Yet, he took them in with undivided love and nursed their body, soul and spirit back to health. He gave each and every one of them a home, hope and community.

He admits that accepting his son was difficult at first. He even asked God why he gave him Eun-man? He wasn’t at all grateful for him. But things and feelings changed subsequently. Eventually, Eun-man transformed Pastor Lee’s life more than he transformed his. And these transformations bring out the joy, love and hope in him and his faith.

That is why Pastor Lee named his son Eun-man, which means “full of God’s grace.” Because far from being an immoral choice, his love for his son and the abandoned babies turned his life around for good. If anything, it was a moral victory for humanity as a whole.

In an interview with Risen magazine, Pastor Lee concludes with this:- 

“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.”

Although I can’t say in all good conscience that his dream will ever come true in the world and society we live in, I can however say without a doubt that Pastor Lee’s selfless spirit is what this world and society desperately need. He is one pastor who goes the distance to make a difference. And his life is a candle in the wind that lights up every dark corner of the world and the society. 

Such a passionate candle can never, ever be blown out. Cheerz.

1 comment:

  1. All the philosophy is good in general. Let's face it. When parents realise that they have a baby that has down syndrome, if it's not yet born. They do have a choice of either abort or let the baby come into this world and suffer the consequences of this world in how the world will treat this baby as he or she turns into a human child, a teenager, a young adult and later an adult and become an elderly. He or she may or may not have the functions of a normal person but who is to blame? The parents who brought them into this world or themselves.... I don't know. Would JESUS have the answer..? Everyone says, "don't abort" Everyone also says, "abort and start afresh"...

    Who has the right to make the decision ? Who has the right to object ? Who has the right to be anything to decide for the baby's future? You, parents, government or GOD? WHO? That's the question.....