(Read Luke 18:18-30.)
Krause watched as they loaded up the van. He sat at his office desk and could look down the hall and through the double doors propped open at the far end. On the far side of the twenty-five feet between his building (the Cosgrave Science and Mathematics Building) and the next building (the Clarence and Billye Ray Phillips Dormitory for Men)—on the far side of that slight expanse between the buildings was a graveled driveway, which was intended for students’ parents to unload the boys’ belongings when semester began. On that graveled driveway sat the College van.
Krause knew that van well. He had checked it out to take General Biology students out to Short Creek to collect water samples. He had used it to drive the Humans and the Ecosystem students to the city water system, the land fill, and to a little thicket on the edge of the city where people dumped tires, back seats of cars, and plastic bags filled with dirty diapers.
But this time the van was going on a very big trip. These kids were going to Mexico on Easter break. There was Dalton goofing around as usual. He had some girl’s bedroll, hiding it under a bush. Krause knew Dalton would “find” the baggage just before the bunch took off. He’d laugh at the girl’s shocked expression, and then she’d be charmed by his fun-loving ways. Everybody would have a good laugh to start the trip off.
Krause did not begrudge them the trip. He did not even really begrudge Dalton—Dean of Student Life at Susanna Wesley Mountain College—his popularity. Yet, he found himself staring down the hallway at the beautiful, cheerful, excited knot of young people as they completed loading the van. He watched as parents gave hugs. Finally, there was tussling for seats. Then, some mother found the bedroll, and Dalton could be seen feigning enormous surprise, and the girl quickly discerning that Dalton was behind it all. Laughter mixed with loud talking echoed along the tiled hallway. No distinct words could be made out by Krause. Then, there was quiet, and Dalton was bowing his head. They were praying now. Finally, the van backed out of view, and the little crowd of well-wishers dispersed. They were gone.
Jacob Krause, Ph.D., swiveled his office chair and returned to his work. The hallway was deserted. A bit of light from the late afternoon sun of early April reflected on the tiles of the wall and floor. The only electric light in the building was the glaring fluorescent tube over Krause’s desk. On the desk were three stacks of exam papers: General Biology, Anatomy and Physiology written exam, and A&P practical exam over the cat musculature. In the middle of the desk was the monitor and keyboard of his old Tandy computer. Krause called it his “Model T.” He joked about the inadequacy of his out-of-date, underpowered computer to hide his embarrassment. It was a cruel twist of fate that a man of his brilliance should have to use such a puny computer.
To his right, the painted concrete-block wall was covered from floor to ceiling with a bookshelf made of bricks and one-by-ten boards. The shelves were crammed with publishers’ complimentary copies of textbooks, old-reliable texts from his student days, scientific journals, and spiral notebooks of his thousands of pages of notes for courses, books that he would write someday, and experiments that he had designed.
Behind him was a low table that had often served as a coffee table. Beyond that, on the wall opposite his desk, was a four-foot love seat covered with vinyl and patched with duct tape. The table between him and love seat was not now a coffee table. It now supported a tiny refrigerator, which, in contrast to the contents of the entire room, was brand new. It was one of those tiny earth-tone brown things that students buy for their dorm rooms. Its door opened in the direction of the desk, and its back was the view of guests sitting on the love seat. The heavy black cord stretched toward the wall behind the love seat, passing over one of its arms, and plugging into a heavy-duty extension cord which in turn disappeared into the corner to plug into a surge-protector.
Inside the little brown refrigerator was a single item. It was a test tube with a screw-top lid, propped upright inside a beaker. The tube contained a milky-white powder, which was described in a commercial label on the lid: “Sodium-potassium ATPase—rat kidney.” It was Krause’s latest experimental subject. He would determine the effect of urea on the enzyme. It had cost his grant budget one hundred dollars to buy the enzyme. He was now working on the protocol for his experiment. He could not afford to screw up.
Krause had dreamed for years of determining something about the way sodium ion is pumped through cell membranes. It fascinated him to think about it. Now he was going to get a chance to try his hand at some studies on the enzyme that was also called the “sodium pump” because it pumped sodium through the membrane. Since graduate school, Krause had stumbled through a post-doctoral research fellowship and then through a couple of university teaching posts. In each case, he had moved on before failure caught up with him, until he came to Wesley Mountain College. Here, he was an important force on the faculty. Here, he could write his syllabi and design his lectures without feelings of intimidation. He could teach with intensity and never be asked to do research. Though he had a grasp of a vast sweep of biology and human physiology, he had not been a successful scientist. Now, through the beneficence of the Nigel Thompson Foundation, he was going to give it one more try.
This grant of his was a well-protected secret. He had gone to the Dean of Academics back in September and asked that the grant be kept quiet. He did not want people asking him how it was going. He did not want the faculty to laugh if it were found that he had blown money on expensive materials and equipment, only to fail in some crucial procedure in the laboratory. So, he had kept a low profile. He had to have the Dean’s signature on the grant application. Thus, he had sat in the Dean’s office and poured out his soul—about his past failures in research, but his deep desire to give it another try. This was a good study—he was sure. He had carefully worked through the literature on the subject. He had calculated a budget, working his way through catalogues of scientific apparatus and materials. Yet, he could not shake his fear of failure, so he asked the Dean to sign the grant application and keep quiet.
The Dean had been gracious. He liked Krause. He was willing to work on committee assignments, help students who were struggling, attend faculty meetings. He was respected by students and faculty. It was a great surprise to the Dean to see Krause seem so frightened by this project. He told Krause that he was being too hard on himself. But, the Dean promised to keep Krause’s secret. “Go in that lab and have fun, Jacob. It sounds to me as if you’re on to something. I say that, but the truth is, I don’t have a clue what you are talking about. Anyway, as long as this is a sideline and you fulfill your teaching duties, I’m fine with it.”
So, Krause had gotten it by the Dean. The app went in, and, to his amazement, in January, he received the grant for $8,000. He was overwhelmed with the giddiness of ordering his chemicals and equipment. Soon, things began to arrive. He carved out a little corner of the A&P lab for his work. “Hands off!” signs were taped up. Finally, he ordered the enzyme itself.
Two weeks after he sent the order in, he went to pick up his mail in the College post office on a balmy March morning. A yellow note was in his box: “You have a package.” He went over to the window. Mary cheerily handed him the package. The return address told him that his enzyme had arrived. His heart was pumping in such a way that he wondered if others could hear it. He could not sustain a conversation with Mary.
“You forgot your mail!” Mary sang out as he turned on his heel and headed for the door. Flustered, he picked the envelopes up, rolling them into a single tube in his left hand. His right hand pressed the small box against his chest. Determinedly, Krause marched toward the door of the Administration Building.
And in walked Dalton. “Dr. Krause! How’re ya doing? Great to see ya!”
Dalton was square in front of him, between him and the door. No way to get past him. And Dalton was not through. No, he launched into a long description of the trip to Mexico.
“…This is going to be a great experience for the students. We’re going to this village. It’s right in the jungle. There are two missionaries that work there. We’ll help them build their school. They’ll talk to us about their work. The students will help with a Bible school. Fantastic!”
Krause knew about the trip to Mexico. Dalton had talked about it at Convocation back in February. He had a missionary representative there. The missionary talked about the people down there—their primitive conditions, the need to help them, to teach them agriculture and reading and sanitation. And he talked about how he and the other missionaries told these people the story of Jesus, about how some of them accepted Christ. He showed slides of beautiful, simple people—sun baked skin, straw hats, gentle, smiling eyes.
As the faculty and students of Susanna Wesley Mountain College had sat in that darkened auditorium, Krause had been taken back to many years before. He had been a high school senior, and the preacher had talked about how people need to go to all the world and preach the gospel. The next thing young Jacob Krause knew, he was down at the front of the church, tears flowing, certain that he had been called to preach.
But somehow, in the years that followed, Krause was pulled in another direction. He had been Valedictorian of Lee and Grant High School. He had pulled a four point grade point for the first two semesters in college. He became fascinated with Science. The vision of carrying the message of salvation to the jungles of Brazil faded, and he studied the graduate school catalogs.
But now, with the images of smiling missionaries in khakis projected on the screen, once more Krause wondered just what he should be doing with his life. He could see himself teaching a Bible lesson, with a missionary interpreting.
Later that afternoon, Dalton had passed a clipboard around for faculty sponsor volunteers. Krause had written his name, with “MAYBE” in all-caps beside it.
That was why Dalton had confronted him on that beautiful March morning as he clutched his package of enzyme to his breast.
“Dr. Krause,” Dalton spoke in his soft Southern-gospel accent, “We still need one more faculty person to come down to Mexico with us.”
Krause’s heart was still thumping wildly inside his chest. It crossed his mind that Dalton could hear it. Maybe he would read the label on the box and ask him what was in the package. But, no, the package looked like any other package. And Dalton was too excited about the trip.
“Well, I just wondered if you’d still be interested.”
Krause looked past Dalton to the goal of his march, the door with the Quadrangle outside. It was an early spring morning with birds singing and cloudless sky. Across the Quadrangle was the Science and Math Building. He had already bought the little refrigerator to keep his enzyme. His head was filled with experimental protocols, with the introduction to the journal article reporting his results, with a brief news article in the local paper announcing the publication of his research.
“I, I did put ‘maybe’ on your list. I really don’t think…I don’t think I’m interested at this time.” Krause’s voice was the voice of a very important man. A man who made decisions based on carefully thought-out priorities. A man who could turn people down without having to justify his decisions.
Dalton’s voice was the voice of one who could say nothing else: “Well, thank you anyway, Dr. Krause. Maybe some other time. See ya.”
“Yes, of course.” Dalton was out of the way, and Krause made it to the door. Outside the Quadrangle welcomed him. He clutched the packaged to his breast and marched across the open expanse to the Science and Math Building. He did not look back. And so, he delivered his enzyme to its special little refrigerator and prepared himself for his experiments.
Now, it was Easter break, and the van was gone. The double doors were open. The little gravel driveway was empty. The sun had dropped too low to send a glare on the tile floor of the hall of the Cosgrave Science and Mathematics Building. Jacob Krause bent over his work.