When film student Brian Ivie opened the Los Angeles Times on June 19, 2011, he had no idea that his life was about to change.
Brian read an article titled “South Korean pastor tends an unwanted flock,” which told the story of Lee Jong-rak, a man who was rescuing unwanted babies with the help of a makeshift box he installed at his church in Seoul. Brian thought the story would make an intriguing documentary, so he tracked down Pastor Lee and asked if he could bring a film crew. Pastor Lee said he didn’t know anything about documentaries, but if Brian wanted, he could come live with him.
And with that, Pastor Lee began the process of inadvertently upending Brian’s life. Brian came to the house and found it full of children with disabilities who were no longer unwanted — Pastor Lee and his wife, Chun-ja, were loving them as their own. Brian, who was not a Christian at the time, was drawn to Pastor Lee’s faith and eventually, became a believer as a result. He also created The Drop Box, a documentary that will be in theaters on March 3, 4 and 5 (you can find a theater and purchase tickets here).
I met Brian recently, and we talked about his conversion story, the film, and what’s next for him as a filmmaker. Here are some excerpts of our conversation.
1. You’re a relatively new Christian, but because of this film, your faith is now a very public aspect of your life. Do you worry that, at 24, you’re too young in your faith to be getting so much attention?
Gifts often exceed character. There’s a danger there for sure, in putting a young Christian on display. I think about it all the time, which is why I have spiritual parents, a personal intercessory team, a weekly “confess all your garbage” call with my friend Wes, and a high standard of transparency when I speak. Nothing fake.
But what I’ve actually found with many Christians is that in the beginning, there’s this raw sense of, “I need to be honest,” and there’s all this gutsy confession of sin and sharing all the things God has done. Then there’s this pressure to be all the things that a Christian person is supposed to be, which results in euphemistic confessions and glossy prayer requests. I battle that. I fight that. It’s a fight to be brutally honest about lust and all kinds of dirt in your life, especially when you’re supposed to have graduated with your Christian bachelor’s degree or whatever.
So in one sense, yeah it’s a lot of attention. But I hope that as long as I’m brutally honest, the attention is less on me than on my brokenness and how I finally knew that I needed to be saved.
2. The Drop Box is a documentary I would be very comfortable showing my agnostic friends. But if you were going to make it into a scripted film with a Christian message, what would you do to keep it from being cheesy and irrelevant to people who don’t believe in Christ?
If The Drop Box were going to be scripted, I think I’d begin by picking directors who had been broken by the Gospel. There are a lot of people in church who — oftentimes without trying to — signed up for Christianity one time at camp or just wear their faith like a Christmas sweater. But true Christianity is surrender in the face of holiness, weeping in the face of mercy. It’s understanding that you’re not a good person and that you’re not going to set God straight for the way He runs His world. It’s a pride-stripping, freedom-purchasing, heart-replacing thing.
So I’d start with the directors and then make sure to let the characters be messy. Pastor Lee wouldn’t be a natural-born hero. He’d be someone who God saved out of the gutter of alcoholism and rage. I would also steal long takes from Steve McQueen for pregnant moments when the children are barely breathing on life support. I wouldn’t shy away from real life, I guess.
Oh, and I’d still have a happy ending. Because that’s what Jesus purchased with His blood for those who trust in Him.
3. How has your conversion to Christianity affected your family members?
God loves saving families. We see that with the jailor in the Bible and other places. That’s not always the case of course, but it’s true in mine. At first, I think my parents were unsure what to do with my faith. But I’ll never forget when my mom said, “You’re like a completely different person” over a basket of bread at a restaurant we’d been to many times before that. Now my parents and my brother, Kevin, are growing in so many encouraging ways.
C.S. Lewis once talked about the Christian as an old house that God has torn to pieces, in order to build a new one, where He plans to dwell. When I stand in my family’s new guest room, festooned with flowers and butterflies and birds, I like to remember how that room used to be my old room — my childhood bedroom. It reminds me that God didn’t just want to save me, but Mom, Dad, and yeah, even Kevin — just kidding.
4. Can you give us some insight into the internal shifts that took place as you made the film and began to believe in Jesus?
I think it was Lee Strobel who compared the salvation process to links in a chain. That makes sense to me — that God uses many different experiences, culminating in an understanding of your own sin and His justice and love. Not everyone has “a date” they gave themselves to Jesus. But everyone has links in a chain.
For me, it began early in my life, when I thought movies were the meaning of life. Other links were porn, author Jack Kerouac, the anger in me, and alcohol. Most importantly, it was meeting Pastor Lee and seeing what the Father’s love for me was like. So when I finally heard this sermon on the cross in June 2012, God had already planned to link all these other experiences together to convict me, humble me, and love me in spite of it all.
I’ll never understand someone’s Christianity without understanding their brokenness. When I heard that Jesus Christ took the punishment of sin for me, it was like watching a movie in my head. I saw Jesus take my place in front of a porn-filled computer, in an emotionally abusive relationship, and in many other shameful places. And then I watched Him go to the cross, in my place, for my sin. I hated myself for that.
And yet, at the same time, I finally felt known. And when I was known, I felt loved.
The Bible says that he who has been forgiven much, loves much. And well, that’s me now.
5. You’ve made this award-winning film that’s going to be showing in theaters all over the United States and Canada, and you’re not even 25 yet. That’s amazing. Tell us about what’s next for you.
Now I’m working on a film about the Jesus Freaks of the 1970s. It’s called The Jesus Revolution, and the plan is to take an old rickety tour bus up the California coast for a God adventure. It’s Almost Famous meets the Gospel.