How to Set the World on Fire (without burning it down)

I write you today in what may be my last writing ever as a Gonzaga Student.  In a fitting end to my collegiate writing career, I now write this in the wee hours of the night after a beer (in celebration of Annika’s birthday).  Sooooo, lets get this blog.  I first want to say congrats! You’ve officially made it around the horn!  Every one of our Zags have posted a blog now, and how amazing have they been eh? Wherever you are, give your zag of choice a round of applause, no matter how socially awkward it may be to clap in the current moment, because they deserve it!

I graduated nearly three weeks ago now (wild…).  Countless times I was encouraged to “go forth and set the world on fire”.  I even posted a snarky Instagram joke about that quote from the SeaTac airport before I left on this trip (check it out @ethandkane). I’m afraid that too often “setting the world on fire” is pictured in shiny grandeur.  Visualized as someone changing the world in a glorious and profound way in a celebrated way. At least that’s the way most graduation speeches make you feel.  It’s a good intention to inspire us to do huge great things.  But the world is full of good intention and apparently so is the road to hell.  Good intentions that are not informed, or based in connection, or community based are what has led to billions of dollars of western aid leaving developing countries like Zambia often no better, or even worse off than before aid.  These kinds of good intentions can perpetuate stereotypes and single stories that can disempower people through some missionary travel.  They are a kind of good intentions that ignore the global west’s role in perpetuating global wealth gaps. We want to go forth and set the world on fire so badly that we can end up burning it down.

For guidance, lets call upon our very own Gonzaga (the human, not the school). Old Aloysius, decided to set the world on fire by caring for plague victims until he literally died of the plague.  Not a very shiny or glorious way to set the world on fire, but now the man is a saint.  St. Aloysius Gonzaga exemplified a type of relationship that stands beside people in the face of what seemed like futility. His endeavor should have been considered futile.  He was bound to die, and he would never cure the plague. Yet, he compiled a collection of small acts of great love that made his entire life one act of love on behalf of the sick.  Even after an evil like the plague claimed his life, his legacy of love came out victorious for the rest of recorded history.  Recently we’ve encountered our own example of this saintly love. Lilias Falconer, the founder of the orphanage we visited on Saturday lived a similar life.  She spent more than half of her life in rural Zambia caring for neglected lepers, walking miles daily to preach the gospel, and founding an orphanage that stands today with an aura of love and over 70 children. She lived the life of a saint without the recognition. Her small acts of love outlive her to this day in the powerful community that exists at Falconer. Especially through the current director Simon, the human incarnation of Santa Claus, and a member of her first group of orphans. On the wall at the Falconer orphanage is hung a quote that reads, “The smallest act of love is greater than the largest good intention”.  What is more powerful than that? In the face of futility such as the plague, leprocy, and huge numbers of orphaned children, their only weapons were small acts of great love, and they won.  They freakin’ won.

 

I believe every last one of our Zags has encountered a frustration on this trip, a tension, a challenge, or a call to justice.  The trip is designed to produce such moments.  Through our conversations with Zambians we’ve come across a variety of issues such as unequal treatment of women, global economic disadvantage, extremely young pregnancy, tribalism, educational inequalities,  unequal treatment of people with disabilities, HIV/AIDS prevalence, lack of access to healthcare, poorly resourced orphanages, and much more.  We’ve engaged with these issues on a deeply personal level through friendships we’ve formed with Zambians.  They are issues that can paralyze us with their magnitude. Paralyze us with futility. For any number of reasons, from the short length of our trip, to our lack of deep cultural knowledge, to our lack of training, we must recognize that right now we can frankly do nothing about these things except offer our modest acts of love and kinship. I feel okay about that, because there are people here who are much greater, stronger, more capable leaders than I can ever aspire to be, and much better equipped to enact the change needed.  Leaders like the famed Debby and Eucharia who quite literally give all they have to support their programs for developing Zambezi youth.  Leaders like Mama Josephine who have stood as pillars of community strength for decades. Leaders like Mama Love who have passion coursing through every vein, and words strong enough to stop literal presidents in their tracks.  With people so empowering and strong around what could I possibly offer to Zambezi except my companionship?  What can I offer Zambezi except for a small act of great love?

Mumbi/Junior/Gaflow and I stuntin’ with a fresh new chitenge shirt courtesy of James the tailor.

I was walking around Zambezi with a teenager the other day.  His name is Mumbi, but he goes by Junior or Ga-Flow (his rapper name).  He’s a lanky and humble 17 year old with curiosity and gratitude beaming out of every pore.  I met him 2 years ago on my first trip to Zambezi, and he’s been a staple in the Zambezi-Zag experience for the past 7 years now.  Zags throughout the ages know his shy smile.  As we trudged through the deep sand of Zambezi, he relayed to Sammi, Spencer, and I the massive societal, cultural, and economic barriers in the way of his goal of becoming a nurse.  I continued to encourage him and affirm him that his intelligence and resilience could get him there. But even as I said it I began to feel the weight of futility of my own words. I don’t know if it can get him there.  As that feeling began to build, Junior continued on. He said “I’ve known you Gonzaga guys for years now. For years you people, have told me ‘Junior, you are smart, and kind, and capable, and all that.’ Before then, I knew I was a nobody. But now I’m convinced that I’m somebody”.  Junior is finishing grade 11, taking our Business and Leadership team’s class, and it is my pride to call him a friend.  We can’t change Junior’s educational future, but year after year after year after year, we can damn well try to affirm him his worth. 

We come to Zambezi for 3 weeks.  It’s not enough time to do much. But we can face futility, plant small acts of love, and support the amazing capable leaders who live here.  After years and years and years of small loving acts, maybe we can build lasting marks that can outlive our short stay here.  As we look to our return home in 1 week, I hope we can collect sparks that we find here in Zambezi, and fan them into flames once we arrive back in the states.  I hope we see the faces of our Zambian friends reflected in others in the US and feel inspired to accompany them as deeply we try to do here.  I hope we remember that many of the issues we see in Zambezi exist in our very hometowns.  I hope we use our sparks here to set our home communities on fire in the quiet ways that they need most.  I hope we go forth and set our worlds on fire. 

Big ol’ mwane,

E. Kane

PS. Dad! You know how I definitely teased you for making me pack all that random ass medical supplies? Well I’ve used nearly all of it, so thank god for fatherly wisdom.  Sending my love to all.  

 

 

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15 Responses to How to Set the World on Fire (without burning it down)

  1. Kelen says:

    Ethan,

    One of my fav quotes is “and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” In having shared an insane amount of communities with you, it’s been a privilege to see you shine so bright in each of them – whether CLP, GUSR, Zambezi, class, our house, our friends – you get it. Your heart and passion is contagious. I’ve loved loved loved watching people cherish it, and loved cherishing it myself. These past 20-some posts have made it evident that your light has been such a guidance to the Zambaes that get to experience that place for the first time – I’m not shocked one bit. Also, i queued up a pic I have of you and Junior two years ago and you both have aged well – props to your haircut for sure. I am in such awe in how you capitalize what’s in front of you. You crap swim hecka. I’m praying for you as you conclude your role, conclude Zambezi, and conclude Gonzaga – some big stuff I know that’s not light to process. Keep shining my friend, it’s a joy to watch you and support you.

    Kelen

  2. Jim Goebelbecker (Isaac's Dad) says:

    Hi Ethan and the other Zags, I read your posts each day but in moments lacking full presence, I didn’t realize I could reply with a comment. Each of your reflections and insights are a gift of vulnerability and of story telling. I find myself thinking about your experiences at random times.

    I have a colleague who frequently comments, “Let’s go change the world” (I work in the nonprofit world) and another friend who recently passed is known for saying, “Our community is stronger when we each try our best each day.” Your posts also carry these themes of “being” our best and changing the world. By first paying attention to the holding of a hand, walking with your head down or up, naming spiders, enjoying a donut, star gazing…the list goes on and you are being, sensing and recognizing what is going on with and around you. And by doing that, we journey to a place to change the world in small moments, by sharing a smile, by looking at someone in the eyes and calling them by name, by creating connection and building relationship we each begin to change the world.

    Thank you for helping me see your experience via your writing. I wish you each a continued experience of being and look forward to hearing more stories.

    And of course…Hi Isaac! We love you 🙂

  3. Christina Sciammas says:

    Ethan,

    Thank you for your post.it is so inspiring to hear how you have impacted each other and all the people you meet on such an emotional level. I liked the quotes you used, I’d like to share with you one of my faves ‘ Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love’ ( by Mother Teresa) Sounds like all the small things you are doing is making a difference because of Christ’s love and light you show to both young and old in Zambia. Each time you catch a gaze, hold a hand, share a walk or a meal , the love you give multiplies. I hope you enjoy your last week. I have really enjoyed reading all your posts. Much love to all you Zags and big hug and kiss for my girl Chloe!!

  4. Bridget Shoenberger says:

    Ethan,
    I once read an article that argued procrastination actually improves one’s skills, and this post is really reaffirming me of that. Your relentless passion for small acts of kindness exceeds most all people that I know, and I know you are showing all the love in Zambezi. I am still reflecting on my time in Zambezi, and for me you put into words what I could never quite grasp. Small acts of great love is all one can really give, and I know you are out there giving huge acts of tremendous love.
    I hope to hear about your experience second time around when you get back, and sending all the Mwane’s
    Bridget

  5. Danika Morrison says:

    Hi E! (and everyone in Zambia!)

    I am writing from within the smelly, stuffy, now ant-infested, walls of 1121. This old house misses ya!

    A wise man (you) once shared a quote with me that changed the way I see myself and the world, it goes a little something like this: Who we are is God’s gift to us. Who we become is our gift to God. To serve life out of gratitude for the gift of life is the habit of the heart that incarnates the Divine Gift.

    Ethan Kane, you live every moment of life with such zest and compassion, thankful for whatever may come your way. Like Kel said, it’s contagious. What an honor it is to know a man so thoughtful, caring, and charismatic as you. A man who daily sets an example to me and so many others, what it means to have gratitude for the little moments in life that we find ourselves in (even something as simplex, yet so complex, as a heartbeat or a breath). It is so incredibly neat to see you sharing yourself and your thoughts with the world and in Zambia. I may not know what it is like to be in Zambia, but I know what it is like to be with you and share in this spirit and fire with ya. I am proud of you and I am proud to be your friend. I cannot wait to hear more about EVERYTHING when you get back to Spokane. Gavin, Mike Boobuigui, and Osiris are all extremely excited for your return.

    See you soon, duder. Thank you for all that you are.

    All my love and hugs,
    Dani

  6. Rachel Yamamoto says:

    Wow what a beautiful and impactful post.
    Also, happy “late” birthday to Annika!! Sorry I missed wishing you a happy birthday on the earlier blog post, but I can’t wait to hear about all your experiences and adventures when you’re back home.

    Rachel Y

  7. David Kane says:

    E:
    Simply awesome! I’m so proud of you

    Dad

    (The old cut the hand carving the pumpkin. Saw it right off ! -but good redemption with the Dermabond Glue)

  8. Valerie Fetzer says:

    Ethan!!

    As I read this I couldn’t stop from smiling. I remember in your blog two years ago you focused on how the sand is an analogy for Zambezi time and what it means to truly be present. Listening to your thoughts and ideas back then had a great impact on my expierence there as I processed what time meant to me. Now, two years later your words have empowered me yet again. I loved your interpretation of “setting the world on fire” because like you so perfectly described, these good intentions can often be a double edged sword. If there’s anyone out there to manifest their call to change in small acts of great love it’s you Ethan! I’m so happy for ya and I hope you haven’t fallen victim to the butt pinching chair (if it even still is there). Bask in every moment of this last week and have a safe trip home!

    Kisu Kisu Kisu Mwane to all,

    Val

  9. Grace Underdahl says:

    Ethan Kane,”

    “We want to go forth and set the world on fire so badly that we can end up burning it down.

    This blog seemed to have fallen back into my lap right when I needed it to (thank you to Kelen). You have reignited my passion. I think I have read and reread, and even read out loud to my dad your blog. You eloquently have put into words many of the frustrations and emotions i’ve felt about philanthropy and organizations who do have fire, but accidentally slash and burn what they were trying to help in the first place. So what do we do? Why are we even in Zambezi? Ethan Kane and to every zag in one of my favorite homes, there is no right or wrong answer and there is no black and white. But you will always have people and have the capability to build and show someone their own potential, and I hope you recognize your own. Thank you thank you thank you, I appreciate you all and everything you will return with.

    Much love,

    Zag in Zambezi 2017, Zag class of 2018,
    Grace

  10. Jean Campbell says:

    Hey Ethan;
    Lovely post.
    Greetings and much more Seattle; so much more.
    We are excited to see you next week.
    Jean

  11. Ryan Castillo says:

    Ethan —

    What a great way to end your Gonzaga career. I remember your blog post when you first went to Zambia about surrendering to the moment. I am glad that you’ve been able to share your wisdom once again with a new class of Zags.

    Could you please pass this message along to Maurie if you get the chance?

    Hey Maur! I’ve been checking nonstop after work, but somehow missed your blog post. It wasn’t until I read Ethan’s post stating that all the Zag’s had posted that I realized yours must have slipped through the cracks. I hope this still gets to you.

    It sounds like Zambia has been an enriching time for you, and reading your post, you are still the same practical and efficient Maurie making his way from shop to shop trying to achieve an end goal as quick as possible that I know and love.

    I hope Zambia has brought you challenge, growth, learning, opportunity, relationships, and fun, but also times that have allowed you to just be. I can’t wait to hear all about it when you get back.

    Sending you lots of good vibes for your last week!

    Love,

    Ryan

    P.S. No word on travel yet, so my floor is still your home when you get back. Dill kind of informed you about the Blazers, but you would be proud of me and how much Blazer knowledge I’ve gained since you’ve been away. We will have to talk over a cold beer when you get back.

  12. Rachel DeSimone says:

    ANNIKA— HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!! I MISS YOU SO MUCH AND CANNOT PUT INTO WORDS HOW PROUD I AM OF YOU! I have read just about everyone your blog post and it never fails to put a huge smile on my face. I cannot wait to hear every detail of your time in Zambia. You are so amazing and I love you so much Annika! You inspire me every single day!

  13. Mia Campbell says:

    Efin:
    This piece of writing is such a gift, much like its author. I hear your voice so vividly here and can’t wait to really hear it for myself in ONE week and ONE day. Some people just get *it* and you are one of those people; you take time to understand your impact and intentions and recognize how complex all of this is. But more importantly, you know what you can give and you just go for it. It’s one of the things that I admire most about you.

    It’s evident in all these other posts that our fellow Zags see this goofy, intelligent and charismatic E. Kane and maaaaayyyybe might love you for it. Maybe.
    I can’t tell you how proud I am of you. A living example of what it really means to push boundaries and what is even more amazing is that you are able to find home and comfort any place you go. You settle in, sit down and ask good questions, always comfortable and confident in yourself. That’s hard to do, but you do it effortlessly.

    Someone give this boy a hug for me, please.

    Big ol’ mwane right back.
    Love love love,
    Mia

  14. Teresa Barron says:

    Annika- Happy birthday my beautiful friend!! I hope it was well spent 🙂 I love seeing pictures of you guys and reading the blogs, even though i miss you so much I can tell how amazing this experience is for you! I can’t wait for you to get home so you can tell me everything and so I can catch you up on my life (even though your last few weeks have probably been way more interesting than mine). Love you!!

    Ellie- Hello friend I miss you like crazy!! Everything I said to Annika goes for you as well, you can bet Portland will be seeing me ASAP so I can give you the biggest hug!! You are glowing in your pictures and writing and I am so happy that you are getting to experience such a life changing opportunity. I just know you are putting smiles on so many peoples faces right now, but I can’t wait to see yours again! Love you!!

  15. Katie Newman says:

    ANNIKA HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!! I miss you so incredibly much and I know you are living your best life and inspiring everyone around you. Can’t wait to see you!!

    Ellie- miss and love you

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