It was simply a coincidence. But it was also a coincidence that opened my eyes to an incredible depth of spirit, grace, and compassion. I had heard of the marvelous work that a particular group began last year, and I was now there to witness the amazing spirit with which these people dedicated their work, in the city where I grew up.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Booker T. Washington, and shared with you a tale about a childhood friend who is a professor at Tuskegee University. Well, the wife of this friend - also a childhood friend - is the Director of Global Outreach at Auburn University. This recent trip to Sekondi, Ghana was her second trip to this city we all grew up in, this time accompanied by students, faculty and administrators from Auburn University for a medical outreach. They served over five hundred (500) ailing residents of this city that is always close to my heart.
Sadly, the conditions at the pediatric ward - the ward where I was born - has deteriorated to such an extent that the school has made the decision to adopt and transform it. They plan to clean the place up, paint it, restock with the necessary medicine and supplies, and in fact turn this ward upside down, bringing to light its beauty and compassion.
I was invited to witness the handing over of supplies, medical and otherwise, from Auburn University to the hospital, and was also invited to offer a prayer for the unveiling of the plaque commemorating the official adoption of the ward. I wasn’t aware of this arrangement before I arrived in Ghana, but it was an exciting and proud moment for me to have been asked to participate in such a humanitarian and compassionate ceremony, one formed to deepen the relationship between Auburn University and Effia Nkwanta Hospital.
Why do I tell this story? The broader point I want to share with you, especially during this season of Lent, is the idea of subverting the status quo, or what has become for us the new normal. The word "subvert" is a combination of two Latin words: sub (meaning 'under') and vertere (meaning ‘to turn’). Subvert then means to turn under, to turn upside down, to overturn, to overthrow. A wonderful imagery of subversion is what a plow does to a soil - it turns it over, letting the good soil emerge from beneath the surface, where it is hidden, into the sunlight.
During a tour of the ward, I couldn’t believe that this was, indeed, a place for seeking healing and strength. The rundown and nauseating nature of the ward provided more than enough reasons why it had been chosen to be adopted by total strangers from as far away as Alabama. And this adoption is mainly for the purpose of subverting the current state of the ward... turning the soil beneath, if you will, into the bright sunlight of beauty and efficiency, so it can offer real healing and optimum service to the many hundreds of people it serves.
Lent is also about subverting all that is inimical and unhealthy in our lives, that is dangerous to our very spiritual growth, nourishment, and faithfulness to God and our relationships with others. More so, it is about subverting human will - our will - if we want the beauty that is beneath to emerge. One of the powerful images described in the Gospels is Jesus being driven to the wilderness by the Spirit after his baptism, and there he fasted, was tempted, and yet remained undefiled. Maybe this is the best time to allow the Spirit to also drive us into the wilderness - the place of stillness, rejuvenation, earthiness, pure solace, and total subversion - where we refuse to be coaxed with either bread or power.
As we steadily progress on our Lenten journey, part of the process is that of our continual subversion with the point of bringing out not only the best in us, but also the real in us. Remember, we are not heading to any particular destination on this Lenten journey, but to Easter - the celebration of the feast of the ultimate subversion in human history.
For more information on Auburn University's Outreach project, click here.