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To save a life

Now that elections are over and we can all get back to life as we know it, literally, I want to raise an issue which I haven’t really touched on except for the piece I did on the baby which was found in the drawer a couple of months ago. There are people here who abandon their babies in some form or fashion. Actually not only babies, but children in general. Now while I can’t speak about the statistics since I couldn’t find any, some of our children’s homes are filled with children who are unwanted and some family members and good Samaritans are looking after children who have been given up for one reason or another.

Now while some parents are unable to raise their children because of financial circumstances, which is another story, I believe the number of unwanted children is higher than we believe. Just like everything else, only a percentage of incidents are ever reported and there are children struggling everyday to live their lives despite not being in the best of environments.

Even the numbers relating to abortions are staggering, which I class under the umbrella of unwanted children.

Those children who actually come into this world and are unwanted for reasons which include disability, are sometimes subject to abuse in one way or another. I applaud various groups and organisations both here and abroad who are doing their part in protecting these young lives so they could indeed have a chance.

However, there is one in particular I wish to focus on today who although thousands of miles away is doing something of such great impact that it’s literally changing the lives of children in that country by giving them an opportunity at fulfilling their God given destiny.

Lee Jong-rak is a Korean pastor who believes he is responding to a call which God placed on his heart by performing an act so simple yet profound, that I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it in its entirety. In December 2009, Lee built a wooden “drop box” on the outer wall of his home.

This wasn’t for material things like clothing or supplies, but it was built to collect unwanted babies. The box which has a blue and pink blanket on the inside, has a bell attached that rings every time it is opened. Every day he goes to his box and opens it to see if anyone has left the precious commodity.

Lee is by no means a rich man. Far from. He’s a simple man with very little education who just has a heart to save the lives of children who he believes were placed on the earth for a reason. In a day and age when many pastors and “men of God” claim to hear all sorts of things from God, preach money and wealth and are interested in how much money they can get out of their congregations for personal enhancement, the simple act of love which Christ preached is being shown through the hands of a man who doesn’t have much. A man who will give his life for those he has already saved.

There is however a painful background to Lee’s story. Twenty-five years ago his wife gave birth to a son who was so disfigured that he kept him away from her for a month stating that the baby had to be rushed to hospital because of a serious illness. Their son, who they found out was born with cerebral palsy, had a huge cyst on his head which choked off the blood flow, slowly rendering him brain-damaged.

This child, who they grew to believe was a blessing from God and who doctors gave only months to live, was named Eun-man, meaning “full of God’s grace”. As I said, that was 25 years ago. While his legs are splayed at impossible angles, his feet turned back inward and he eyes the room impassively while occasionally letting out a snort or sigh as his parents regularly vacuum his saliva through a tracheal hole in his throat, they love their son just like any parent would and should.

He said that South Korea has reached a stage where people are leaving babies on the streets of Seoul and so it’s truly a national disaster. His home has turned into an orphanage where the lives he has saved are given hope where there was initial darkness. He also said that initially he didn’t expect any babies to be left, but when given the option, sure enough babies were dropped off sometimes with a note attached.

In a country with a population of almost 50 million, the disabled are viewed as a national shame. I see this view as shameful. Although the drop-box or baby box was conceived only four years ago, Lee and his wife have been taking in children since 1998 and have raised them on their own.

Some of them have been transferred to other facilities while others have been adopted. Currently there are 20 children in their care and this in itself is a great financial and physical undertaking since their son, who by the way spent fourteen years in hospital, needs constant care and attention.

Of course no good deed goes unpunished as the authorities want to close it down stating that Lee isn’t in possession of a licence and has no formal training. He has challenged them and said: “The government appears to be indifferent and has no countermeasures when the people are dying. Officials can say that I encourage the abandonment of babies but can’t set up countermeasures. They need to do it immediately, otherwise they are neglecting their duties.” Amazingly, his is the only private orphanage in the entire country for disabled children. I find that an unbelievable fact.

So for the children with various challenges, including blindness, deafness, cerebral palsy, down syndrome etc, who he, his wife and a small staff look after with the help of numerous volunteers, their lives now hang in the balance as they wait to see what will become of this lone private institution for disabled children who receives financial support from private groups and ironically receives a government stipend as well.

He has bravely told the authorities that until they can provide adequate accommodation and protection including homes for the children to be placed in, he will continue his work since the alternative is for mothers to “dispose” of these children. So far there has been no response.

This story is far from over. Not as far as it pertains to the authorities, but as it relates to how we view life. We give life value based on our internal checklist. We sometimes see flaws and failures as a disfigurement of such epic proportions that we disregard the individuals to whom these differences are attached.

When we sentence children to death because of what we deem to be an embarrassment or disgrace because of disabilities or any other reason, it is then we can be assured that all which makes us human is dead to love and compassion, because though we “live”, we carry the blood of these children on our hands. God forgive us.

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