Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Curious Case of the Professor and his Hot Pink Suitcase

You may have noticed my friend. Tall and distinguished, he’s a commanding presence at any gathering. As the keynote speaker at numerous dental conferences around the world, he attends a lot of gatherings. And, since he speaks a lot, he naturally spends a lot of time in airports. Come to think of it, that’s where I think you may have bumped into him once or twice. If you have, you may have raised an eyebrow as he passed by with his long-legged stride. He looks normal enough with his neatly clipped mustache and business casual attire. It’s that hot pink suitcase he carries that garners the curiosity of fellow passengers.

Norbert’s name has a string of titles behind it—Doctor of Dentistry, PhD, Master of Science, Director of the Aachen Dental Laser Center, President of the German Society for Laser Dentistry, Chairman of the Executive Board of the World Federation for Laser Dentistry, and the list goes on. He’s pioneered research in laser dentistry and is quite famous in the dental community for his developments. But there’s more.

The son of a missionary, Norbert spent most of his childhood in Africa. His blonde head could be spotted bobbing through the bush together with the dark curls of his African playmates. Although his German lineage can be traced back nearly five hundred years… although he works and lives in Germany… although German is his native tongue, his heart remains decidedly African. Even his dental students have asked, “Prof, we know you are German, but where are you really from?” The answer is Africa. And it is to Africa, Norbert returns every year.

Nearly twenty years ago, Norbert learned of the plight of young girls in Kenya. Poverty, rape, and AIDS claim their innocence and rob them of a future. Norbert took it upon himself to establish a Christian boarding school near the shores of Lake Victoria. Named the German Education Board, it now houses 200 girls in grades 9 – 12. The girls learn practical skills like gardening, cooking, and sewing. They also tackle subjects many African girls never get the opportunity to learn – chemistry, biology, physics, algebra, and the like.

His school has climbed to third highest in the nation of Kenya and frequently receives high-ranking visitors. People are curious to meet this distinguished German man with the warm African heart and see the work he has done with “his” children, as he likes to refer to the students there. Balancing intellectual, spiritual, and physical education, he graduates well-rounded young women prepared to excel in University studies and life.

But what about that pink suitcase?

Ah, yes!

That pink suitcase.

In 1995, Norbert and his wife—a talented and beautiful nurse—were the proud parents of a bright and vivacious little girl. She charmed her grandparents and had her daddy wrapped around her finger from the first moment he held her in his arms. Not surprisingly, Norbert and his wife were thrilled to discover they were expecting a second child.

The time for delivery soon arrived and another little girl was born to them. But there was something vastly different about this second child. She had Down’s Syndrome. It was a difficult time for them. Remembering the experience of the Israelites who drank the bitter water later made sweet (Exodus 15:22-27), they named their daughter Marah, trusting that God would also turn their bitter disappointment into a sweet experience.

Fast forward sixteen years…

Norbert is packing his clothes to travel to America. He will visit, meet with our church’s medical missionary board, and serve as keynote speaker at dental conferences in the Los Angeles area. Marah sees him packing and hurries to offer her suitcase. He smiles, folds his clothing into her pink bag, and she is satisfied. Without a second thought as to what others might think, Norbert is off to the airport, hot pink suitcase and all.

President, PhD, keynote speaker, pioneer in the field of laser dentistry, professor, philanthropist, Norbert is all of these. But his most important role is that of a daddy. And he takes that role very seriously. In his meetings with top-notch leaders around the world, Norbert is not ashamed to arrive carrying his sweet daughter’s hot pink suitcase while his colleagues cart designer luggage. He knows that the important things in life don’t have numbers or letters attached to them. They aren’t measured by dollar signs or degrees. The important things in life have hearts that need to be cherished and protected.

The next time you’re standing in an airport somewhere and you glimpse a tall, dignified man with a neatly clipped mustache, wearing business casual, and toting a hot pink suitcase, pat him on the shoulder and tell him, “Thanks for remembering what’s important in life.” He’ll give you a warm smile...

glance at the suitcase...

and know exactly what you’re talking about.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Corinthians 13:4-8.