Mr. Riese

For my first two years of college I attended Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska because it was close to home and because it was cheaper. Union's small, two-year engineering program shared a building with math, physics, chemistry, and biology.

Our lone engineering professor, Mr. Keith Riese, taught all our engineering classes, and had to teach a few math classes as well. Mr. Riese, who had helped design the SAM-D missile earlier in life, was a good natured, laid back guy who graded all his own homework. His door was always open whenever he was in his office, and if you ever paused to knock on it, then he would say something like, "Well, don't knock, just come on in!" And we did. Inside his office was a large rectangular table that sometimes had five students sitting at it, but more often just one or two.

Mr. Riese liked to work at the table rather than at his desk, probably because his desktop was used for storage. He didn't mind having students working beside him, and if we sat there trying to do our homework, he would answer our questions. When there were many students he wouldn't get much work done, but he was always willing to explain things to us kindly once again if it wasn't our fault that we hadn't already learned it or if it was, regardless.

If you were still sitting there at 5:30 or whenever it was he decided that he had better go home he would say, "So, do you want to come over?" Such invitations came without any expressed need or hints to the same effect. He was just seeing to it that students had all the help they could use. Sometimes we would come over as a result of these invitations, sometimes we would call at 8:00 at night or during break and invite ourselves over because we needed the help, and we could do that, because that was the kind of person he was and that was the kind of relationship we had with him. We felt bad about doing this at first, but he never acknowledged any reason for us to feel that way. "Don't be bashful," he would say.

When we arrived at his house, his screen door was usually the only thing guarding the entrance. If we rang the doorbell, we would receive some distant signal to "come on in," something of an allusion to his office door. Sometimes he would be watching TV and we would come up beside his chair. Sometimes he would be raking leaves and we would open his sliding glass door and talk to him in his back yard. Sometimes five of us would be over there sitting at his tables and he would be sitting there right in our midst, helping student after student with the same homework problems and trying to get us to eat his food. In spite of all this, he never gave us a look or had the slightest inflection in his voice to indicate that he didn't want to help us or that we were an inconvenience to him, still smiling and laughing and helping. Sometimes before tests we would be there until 10:00 or later, and when we made gestures toward leaving he or his wife would say, good naturedly, something like, "Well, don't leave in the heat of the day!" or "Well, don't run off mad!" Whenever we needed help, Mr. Riese was there with a bottomless barrel of kindness to be meeded out.

Now some teachers might recoil from such behavior as selflessly helping students, saying that they want students to figure things out on their own so they will learn to be more independent in the "real world." Well, I can't say that their method won't help acquaint students with the real world, but this world operates on a selfish system that was not designed by the God we serve. In this world, the ways of Jesus seem impractical to our sin-trained minds, and to many people, Christlike behavior just doesn't make sense because they've never seen it. How will they ever understand the selfless love of Jesus or the grace that He has to give? Sometimes, as Mr. Riese's students, our need of help was the result of bad decisions that we had made. We hardly gave a hint that we wanted help and he was right there to kindly give us as just as much as we wanted, as if we hadn't made any mistakes at all, because he wanted to help us by. We felt ashamed to be in his house at 10:00 because we hadn't finished our homework earlier, but he laughed with us and smiled just the same, because he loved all of us.

It was a warm summer night at the end of my second and last year at Union when I finished moving my things out of my dorm room and cramming them into my car. I went back up to my room and knelt beside my bed to pray, as I had learned to do again, one last time. The bed was now just a bare mattress. I wanted to thank God for all the many blessings I had received at Union, and certainly not the least of which was Mr. Riese. I knew that Mr. Riese had better represented Jesus to me than anyone else at Union, and now I think probably better than anyone in my whole life as well.

During vacation I visited Mr. Riese in his office where I had spent hours. I asked him if he had a philosophy about life. He wasn't sure how to respond to that, so I said to him, "You and your wife are very giving people." He replied with a question that really wasn't a question, but an answer. He said, "Well, what are we here for?"


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