Saving Souls: 2 Inspiring Documentaries on Mercy
Films highlight love and redemption, one precious life at a time.
Imagine the scene: a self-made millionaire sitting with his family at dinner one night announces that he will no longer work for money but, instead, will donate all his time and wealth to saving street children. He also adds that he will start selling his possessions to achieve this aim.
Such was the case one night for Kenyan businessman Charles Mully, the subject of the documentary Mully (2015).
The film tells the story of a child from a violent home who is abandoned by his family. A random act of kindness by a Catholic family changes the course of his life, setting him on the road to prosperity. Seemingly, thereafter, everything this young man touches — commercially and in his personal life — turns to gold. The once-homeless orphan acquired money, a wife and a family of eight children — and he thanked God for it all.
Then one day Mully’s car was stolen. He had many cars; the theft of one should have made no difference. Yet it did. The boy who had stolen the car had previously confronted the businessman as he parked. The street boy was a younger version of Mully. The man recognized all too well the hopeless rage and sense of despair he glimpsed on the face of the boy. This realization sparked a search on Mully’s part for what God was calling him to do with his life.
The rest of the film charts a story that is even more incredible than Mully’s rise from childhood abandonment to adult abundance. Maybe that is because what followed is a story of a different form of abandonment — abandonment to God’s will. But it is the chronicling of a man’s remarkable kindness that makes the film so powerful. In fact, the movie’s subject is almost too good to be true.
Many did not understand Mully’s newfound sense of mission — not even, initially at least, his wife and children. By the time the film was released, however, it was estimated that, with the support of his family, Mully had improved the lives of around 100,000 children in his native Kenya. When rescued from the streets by “Daddy Mully,” they were given not just a life, but hope, as well. Left to fend for themselves on the rubbish heaps of Nairobi and elsewhere, many of these children now have an education; many have gone on to enter the professional classes in Kenya and abroad. At the time of filming, more than 80 of these children were attending university.
The film is less explicit about Mully’s Christian faith than perhaps it could have been. What is clear is that he is motivated by his faith and that the key decisions he made were real acts of faith that cost him and his family much. For this reason, the film, a record of one man’s spiritual journey, is more riveting than many a drama.
Perhaps that is because in meeting Charles Mully, if only onscreen, one feels “stretched” to embrace a broader vision of what it means to live. No doubt this reflects in a small way the experience of the children he has helped and, indeed, of all those who have encountered this remarkable man.
The phrase “feel-good film” is overused and is applied, not always appropriately, to many contrived Hollywood plot lines. In the case of Mully, the phrase “feel-good” is not only true, but is even, perhaps, an understatement.
A continent away, a Korean Protestant pastor installed a “box” at the front of his church. On a regular basis, unwanted babies are placed there, some with umbilical cords still connected. He knows when they are put in it because a bell rings summoning him to the latest arrival. Thereafter, he takes the deposited child in his arms, kneels and thanks God for the life that has now been entrusted into his care.
Pastor Lee Jong-rak is an exceptionable man. Coming from a poor family, he left his home village and came to Seoul, where he found his vocation — two, in fact, one to marriage and the other to his Christian ministry. Later, it was the birth of the couple’s son, Eun-man, that brought a moment of crisis. On hearing that his child was severely disabled, the pastor sat bewildered, crying in the hospital waiting room; why had God not given him a “healthy” baby? Then, he checked himself and repented of what he had said.
The intervening years caring for his child with cerebral palsy were difficult ones. The treatment for Eun-man — who was bedridden, not able to speak and often in pain — meant that Lee had to sell his house to pay medical bills and, for the next 14 years, the pastor was to all but live in the same hospital ward as his son.
Mysteriously, this new life, one so helpless and vulnerable, was to prove the beginning of another call for Lee and his wife, ultimately leading to the “Drop Box.”
In December 2009, Lee built the small shelter with his own hands. He wrote over it a Bible verse: “If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up” (Psalm 27:10).
Thereafter, his life became one of endless nights of broken sleep whilst awaiting the “bell”: the arrival of another soul in desperate need left by another soul in desperation. Notably, there is no word of judgment for the women, or more often the girls, who leave their babies. Some leave letters for the pastor, often ones filled with bitter regret; it is obvious that the pain contained within these tear-stained pages moves the pastor as much as the plight of the babies left.
It is his son Eun-man whom the pastor credits with bringing into being the Drop Box ministry. By this ministry Lee was taught the lesson that all have their part to play in the Divine Plan, even those, perhaps especially those, so often deemed “worthless” by society.
The Drop Box (2015) set out to catch something of the beauty of this ministry. There is no other word for the work of this man, his wife and their inner-city Jusarang Community Church, with its cramped and overcrowded surroundings, contrasting only with the vastness of the hearts found therein. The biographies of those who have been entrusted to them — many with disabilities — are individually told to the camera by the couple in the same way as any parent would do his or her own children. This is no detached humanitarian effort, however; instead, here are real tears when talking of the children — 500 by the time of filming — who came destined, because of their illnesses, for short “stays,” only to leave their mark nonetheless and inevitably find a lasting place in the heart of Pastor Lee and his family.
The film’s director, Brian Ivie, started filming as a man of no faith. He just saw a great story; and, he found one; but it was also one that was to influence him in an unforeseen way: By the end of filming, he, too, was a Christian.