Entering the World of An ADI Rescue

Entering the World of An ADI Rescue

At dawn Mary and I tumbled off the plane and into a different world. As soon as we turn the corner leaving customs, I spot a large, familiar, lion-looking head in the thick of the crowd. It can only be Alexis, Animal Defenders International’s (ADI) Latin American Manager and go-to guy on the ground.  Jan and Tim are right there beside him laughing and waving.

It is Alexis bounding over to swoop each of us into a huge embrace of welcome that will forever be for me the door opening into this ADI experience. The size of that hug has been the measure of the warmth and thoughtful generosity that starts with Jan and Tim and moves through every aspect of this rescue.

We load into the car and get a mini briefing on the way to the hotel to unpack and get some rest. Tim and Jan encourage everyone to stay some place comfortable during this stage in a rescue when sleep becomes fuel for the clear thinking and intense emotional stamina that are required.

Things will begin to change quickly, a lesson we are about to learn first-hand. That’s just how it is when moving large dangerous animals, animals that have known years of violence and trauma, through multiple jurisdictions. Each has its own protocols. Permits, time-sensitive and slow to get, are always required. Lots and lots of permits. Rules change. Often without announcement or any apparent rationale.  Every step is expensive. Politics are involved – always –  local, national and certainly, international. Planes are grounded; routes suddenly shutdown.

Most importantly, with every consideration, comes the grim reality that there are people far more dangerous than any of these animals who are lying in wait for any opportunity to kill them.

The awful truth is:  these animals are worth far more dead than alive. Poachers and illegal traffickers will kill them and anyone who gets in their way. Jan is a warrior. No one is messing with these animals!  Not on her watch! No more. She has seen enough…way too much. Tim has documented most of it and used that documentation to develop strategies and gradually get laws in place all over the globe to end much of this terrible suffering.

The Guibord Center, through our Animals, Faith and Compassion initiative, has a role to play in raising awareness of the need for this work. That’s why Mary and I are here, to learn from the best teachers we can find. That’s also why I have been working so hard with ADI to name the educational center in the new wildlife center in South Africa after my mother. We must change our consciousness – starting with awakening and supporting children in their instinctive connection to nature. 

Even before we get to the hotel, we get our first chance to be nimble and adapt to change. The flight out of here in less than four days has been cancelled. Our job right now is to unpack and rest while Jan and Tim explore the multiple layers of backups already falling into place.

The Journey Begins: Animals, Faith and Compassion on the Frontlines

The Journey Begins: Animals, Faith and Compassion on the Frontlines

In the Final Stages of an ADI Rescue

It is a gigantic blur – a dream – but it is real!
WE ARE  GOING TO AFRICA!
WE ARE GOING NOW!
Not tomorrow or next week.
NOW.

After many months of excited anticipation, unexpected complications and last- minute postponements, suddenly everything is a “go”. I kiss my two “Little Lions” good bye and head out the door. Somehow, I find myself piled into an Uber along with a mountain of luggage in the middle of the night with my dear friend and treasured Guibord Center colleague, Mary Kirchen, racing through LA traffic to try to catch the midnight flight to Guatemala. Yes, at last, this is real!

This trip was planned nearly two years ago, when Animal Defenders International (ADI) was able to rescue more than a dozen lions and tigers from the circus trade in Guatemala. ADI’s Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips were instrumental in getting legislation passed to outlaw these animals in circuses. As long-time followers of ADI’s important work protecting all kinds of animals, Gwynne and Mary and I knew that The Guibord Center would partner with them to share their work in our Animals, Faith and Compassion Initiative.

Mary and I arrive in Guatemala at dawn, eager to learn more about how this remarkable couple has been able to gather and guide people of conscience across the globe to take action to end so many different forms of cruelty and indifference to animals. I am humbled to play a small part in this work that is changing hearts and minds and culturally engrained habits of cruelty that go back for generations.

It brings tears to my eyes as I write these words. What an incredible privilege and the dream of a lifetime it is to get to be part of this extraordinary passage of restoration and compassion. People of goodness like Jan and Tim and their counterparts all over the world refuse to stand aside while these innocent beings are kidnapped and forced into lives of misery. And we are standing with them.

In my heart I know that this is where The Guibord Center needs to be – not doing the rescues – but supporting these works of compassion – bringing the numerous voices of our many faiths and people of good faith together to speak out in the defense of the defenseless. That’s what spiritual values are all about. We have to find ways to raise our voices of conscience in every country and corner of the world. We have to come together to speak and live the unspoken truth that real satisfaction and safety come in acts of decency and compassion

Compassion begins with animals. It is as simple as that. Animals are the place to begin. Science has discovered that every child is born with a brain designed for spirituality: an acute sensitivity towards something larger than ourselves that unites us to one another in the goodness of life. So, children are born with an instinct for compassion, and we have to nurture it however we can. Animals, it seems to me, are the easiest way to begin. We have to find the words and be the examples.

While our plane flies through the early-morning darkness I think about what lies ahead when we arrive. As the president of The Guibord Center, I contacted the Episcopal Bishop of Guatemala, Bishop Silvestre Romero, before we even booked the flight, to  ask him if he would join us in this effort by offering a blessing for these animals, a blessing for all of us and for the dangerous journey of compassion that lies ahead. He graciously agreed – instantly, joyfully, whole-heartedly. He even wrote back to ask if his wife could join him. I laughed out-loud. Of course. I look forward to meeting him in person.

My colleague in this adventure, Mary, and I have done everything we can so far. It is a gift to have her here with me. She is the best of sports, a great friend and confidant, and she is also sound asleep right now. It’s time for me to try to do the same.

My feet were already asleep an hour ago, perched amid the luggage crammed beneath the seat. By sunrise we’ll be on the ground and  soon thereafter headed for the compound somewhere in the jungle where we’ll finally  get to meet 5 rescued lions and 12 tigers and the people who have taken care of them for these many months. It still seems unreal.  But it is no longer a dream.

Community in the Time of Coronavirus

Community in the Time of Coronavirus

Maintaining Connections and Nurturing Relationships

Since The Guibord Center’s beginning, our mission has been about relationships – about breaking down barriers of misunderstanding and bringing people together. Currently, amid coronavirus concerns, we face a different kind of barrier: one of physical separation as community leaders are cancelling events and asking their friends and colleagues to stay home.

Today, after much prayer, we join them in postponing our Annual Celebration Dinner. While I know this is disappointing, it is the right thing to do. We hope to reschedule the dinner once this crisis is under control.

During this difficult time of social distancing, our challenge is to overcome isolation and maintain community, encouragement and much-needed interaction. We at The Guibord Center see this as a time for quiet, prayerful reflection and (re)discovering ways we can nourish our current relationships and build new ones. There are plenty of ways for all of us to reach out, old and new: phone, video conferencing, social media, email, and even old-fashioned postal mail.

Like many other organizations, The Guibord Center is working on ways to continue facilitating community while we’re physically apart. We have been working on a new webinar series that we are launching this month. Its aim is to inspire thoughtful and respectful “courageous conversations” (to borrow a phrase) on timely topics. The initial webinar, “When Worldviews Collide,” is premiering Tuesday, March 31, at 6:30 pm PDT. Learn how you can join us and register here.

The Guibord Center is committed to supporting community by doing what we can to offer ways to connect, interact, and uplift one another. While we may be apart, let’s remember we’re not alone.

Dr. Lo Sprague

At the Dawn of a New Decade

At the Dawn of a New Decade

In this special season for our many faith traditions of taking stock and counting one’s blessings, we of The Guibord Center want to take the opportunity to express our gratitude for each of you. You have been with us with love and great kindness through the painful loss this year of our beloved founder, the Rev. Dr. Gwynne Guibord. You have each continued to enrich and magnify our work in so many ways to see her vision thrive. We – every member of the team – thank you profoundly.

This year has once more been filled with hardship and cruelty for many. It has been an angry and hurtful time when we have been urged to turn upon one another. And yet, together we have resisted that pressure. Rooted in the spiritual strength at the heart of our many faiths and in faith in each other, we have come together throughout this year to support and celebrate the goodness and specialness of one another. We commit to you to continue to do so in the decade that is just dawning.

The Guibord Center will always lead with hope in the power of compassion, with belief in the decency of the other even in the midst of despair. We stand resolutely for the dignity and inclusion of the stranger.

WHY? Because each of us – each of you – is truly a reflection of the Holy, of the sacred force within all beings that unites us.

We look forward with excitement to 2020, to the beginning of this new decade, when together we will take Gwynne’s vision to a whole new level. So as we greet the New Year, let us commit to one another to dig deep and lead with our best selves… recognizing that the legacy of the one heart we share gives us our strength and will outlive us all.