It has now been a full year since my wife Aladrian and I flew away from our home, family, church, friends, and our settled California lifestyle. We soon landed in Cape Town to begin the most challenging and incredible year of our lives!
It has taken lots of adjusting for us to get grounded in this beautiful AND heart-breaking country we now call home. But, at the end of the day, we are awestruck by how God has stretched our faith and dependence on him.
We arrived in March 2016 to join the staff of East Mountain, an innovative leadership development mission near Cape Town, South Africa.
East Mountain is a UWM missional community that seeks to advance God’s kingdom on earth by identifying, equipping and multiplying high-impact servant-leaders for Africa’s churches, communities and families.
CREATING TOMORROW’S LEADERS TODAY
Each year we identify young, aspiring leaders with demonstrated leadership potential, passion for Africa, an entrepreneurial spirit, and commitment to multiply more leaders. These exceptional individuals undergo an intensive year-long, live-in learning experience focused on spiritual formation, theological education, and practical skills.
Just over a year ago Aladrian and I were established Sacramento pastors with productive ministries, a comfortable lifestyle, and high hopes of entering into blissful grandparenthood.
So, how did we end up 10,000 miles from home equipping leaders in a foreign culture?
OUR TURNING POINT
From ministry trips to Africa over many years, Aladrian and I had developed a deep love for its people and deep awareness of both its needs and its immense potential.
On each trip we’d been heartbroken when repeatedly asked:
“Why won’t our successful African-American brothers and sisters come help us succeed?”
And, we had noticed how the developed world typically responded to Africa’s massive problems with Band-Aid solutions: more food, more medicine, and more charity dollars. Clearly, charity alone hasn’t produced adequate results.
At some point, Aladrian and I stopped asking God, “Why is Africa like this?” and started asking, “What can we do to make a real difference?”
A NEW VISION
The answer came loud and clear, and, it was in what we had been doing successfully in our own country for years:
Help transform Africa by multiplying godly, well-equipped leaders there.
Very soon after that I became acquainted with East Mountain’s work while casually surfing the web. I was so intrigued by their unique leadership training initiatives that I began Skype conversations with EM senior staffers to learn more.
Those talks quickly led to us flying to Cape Town to see East Mountain for ourselves. We immediately saw that the program and the team behind it were the real deal and that God was doing something very special there. We wanted to be in on it.
It seems the feeling was mutual, as shortly thereafter we were invited to join East Mountain’s staff.
INVESTING IN GODLY LEADERSHIP
I can’t believe how unique and gifted each of our resident-trainees are—and how much of a father’s love and pride I feel toward them. Our program is a difficult process, but God is building them up rapidly. My prayer is that these young people are the next generation of godly change-agents for Africa—and the world.
By: Ronn Elmore, Serving in South Africa
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When foreigners come to Africa for the first time, they are often surprised that racism exists, when everyone is black! But tribal identities are strong, so it’s not skin color that determines their opinion of other “races,” but ethnicity.
Mali has been spared much of the deadly tribal conflict which exists in other parts of Africa (for reasons which would take an additional blog post to explain!), but we still hear subtle forms of prejudice expressed.
One of these is animosity of the Malinké, with whom UWM has worked since the 1950s, toward the Fulani, with whom my husband, Jim Bowers, has worked for about 20 years. We’ve even heard a Malinké pastor, Pastor Don, make wisecracks from the pulpit toward Fulani visitors in the congregation! It’s all done in a joking manner and thus is considered acceptable. Further, if you challenged those remarks as racist, the reply would be, “They are only racist if they are untrue. But they are true, so they’re not racist!”
Some years ago, we got to know some Fulani refugees from Mauritania, and some of them came to Christ! There were two brothers, one of whom I will call Jamal. They lived north of our city of Kayes, but when Jamal’s son fell deathly ill he had to bring him to the hospital in town. This posed a crisis above and beyond the illness. Being originally from Mauritania, Jamal had no support structure in Kayes. He needed a place to stay. He needed food to eat, for himself but also preferably for his sick son (hospital food is so bad that most families take meals to their patients). He knew the boy needed to be in the hospital but didn’t know what he would do from there.
Somehow Pastor Don heard of his need, and in spite the fact that Jamal was a Fulani, more importantly he was a believer, and so he organized the church ladies to provide meals, and gave him a place to sleep while he awaited his son’s release! (The church happens to be less than a 15-minute walk from the hospital, so that was icing on the cake). We were surprised by the love demonstrated by one who had appeared to us as a bigot, but Jamal (who had never actually heard any of the pastor’s remarks, but knew that typically tribes look out for their own) was even more surprised! If there is a better way to demonstrate to a new believer what it means to belong to the Family of God, I don’t know what it would be!
Jamal and his brother were eventually repatriated to Mauritania. There are no churches where they live, but they returned to their homeland with not only salvation in Christ, but with an experience of the Body of Christ and the surprising love which the Holy Spirit creates between believers.
By: Jennifer Bowers, Serving in Mali
If you would like to donate towards helping to reach the Fulani for Christ please learn more below.Donate Here
One of the luxuries of becoming a teacher straight out of college is that you already have roughly 16 years of “in-school” experience to draw from. There have been countless times in my three years of teaching middle school Bible at the International Christian School of Budapest (ICSB) when my teaching was directly influenced by a previous experience – good or bad – as a student. One of those instances was Valentine’s Day of this year, a day when – fittingly for the holiday – God showed me his love in a surprising way.
I will always remember English class on Valentine’s Day 2008, which was my junior year of high school. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, our teacher decided that she would spend the majority of class telling each student what she loved and appreciated about them. I remember expecting something vague, like “You’re always kind to everyone,” because I preferred to stay in the background, and I didn’t feel like teachers paid all that much attention to me. Then my teacher said,
“Brian, I love that you don’t see people on a surface level… when you see people, you see their souls and their deepest spiritual needs.”
I was shocked, because it was true… and not only had she recognized that, but I had never realized that about myself, nor had I ever stopped to think that it was significant or unique. It was a simple sentence, but it still stands as one of the most important things that anyone has ever said to me. It made me feel noticed and appreciated for who I was as the deepest level, and it motivated me to continue seeing people as souls that needed Christ.
So then, as Valentine’s Day approached this year, I remembered my English teacher’s words and decided to give the same words of personalized love and appreciation to my own middle school students. However, the class that I was teaching that morning was seventh grade. While the majority of our students at ICSB are from American missionary families, seventh grade is composed mostly of Hungarian students, and while most of them speak English fluently and a few of them are Christians, it still makes for a very different and sometimes challenging class dynamic. Nevertheless, after two years of teaching them, I had learned to love and appreciate things about all of them.
Mostly because they are middle school students, it is often difficult to hold their attention in class for more than 15 minutes without changing activities. I went around and spoke into each of my 20 seventh-graders for 35 minutes, and it was silent. Every student was locked in and listening, nodding in agreement as I would talk about their classmates. Students I addressed would listen – some making eye contact and some avoiding it – and reactions ranged from smiles to quiet tears. I was already inwardly praising God for what he was doing through this, when they shocked and blessed me in a way I had not expected. As we finished with 10 minutes until the bell and I began to transition to other things, they protested, “we didn’t get to say anything about you!”
Have you ever felt like the time, commitment, and sheer work you put into your ministry is unrecognized at best and unprofitable at worst? I don’t think I’ve met anyone in ministry who’s managed to avoid this nagging feeling. Granted, God does not promise that we will be appreciated and praised for our work in Him; in fact, we are to often expect the opposite (see Col. 3:23, Eph. 6:5-8, and Gal 1:10)!
As a teacher, I don’t expect to hear daily appreciation from students, but it can be exhausting to pour my heart and soul into them over long stretches where it seems they simply do not care. There are a few students who I can count on to encourage and affirm my teaching, but it often happens that those I fight for the most are also the ones who don’t show appreciation.
Before my seventh-grade students asked to share what they loved and appreciated about me, I wasn’t sure if they had even really considered what I did for them. (At one point towards the end of the fall semester, after I had prayed for reduced stress in teachers and students, one of them had asked, “Mr. Dicks, how could teachers get stressed?”) However, I sat and listened for ten minutes as every student raised their hand and shared something they appreciated about me, as a person and as their teacher. Some personal favorites:
- “I feel like when you teach, you’re not just talking through notes. It feels like you have a message from God that he wants you to give to us.”
- “You talk to us and treat us like individuals, not just like a bunch of the same students.”
- “You are willing to change plans or do extra work to help us learn better.”
And so, on a day when I planned on showing love to my students in an intentional way, they – and likewise, God – surprised me with their love towards me. They shared their words out of their own love, but God used them to love me in His own way, affirming my investment in the ministry he had given to me.
I believe we can all learn two major truths from this.
- Make it a habit to tell others what you love and appreciate about them, especially in regards to the work in which God has called them. Do it in a way that is intentional, personal, and sacrificial.
- Pay attention for ways in which God loves you through the words and actions of others.
He does not promise that we will be loved and appreciated by the world around us, but he does promise that his love will never leave us.
By: Brian Dicks, Serving in Hungary at ICSB
I hate being the newbie.
Newbies make mistakes. And they receive constructive criticism ALL.THE.TIME. to correct those mistakes. They embarrass themselves. They do or say things that make them look foolish, childish and/or insensitive.
And that’s me right now. The Mistake Maker with a capital M. The constructive criticism receiver. The one standing on the outside without the inside information – or rather, with just enough inside information to stand on the inside, but too much of me is outside, so when I open my mouth, everyone knows that I really belong on the outside. With almost a year under our belts here (6 months at language school, and now 5 months at our target location), you’d have thought we’d be past the newbie phase (though I’m sure all of you who’ve been on the field would be LOL’ing right now because you know that length of time spent does not guarantee you’ll never find a foot stuck in your mouth). But here we find ourselves, still making rookie mistakes. Still asking ourselves: will we ever come to a place where we don’t feel foolish in front of those whom we came to love?
So, there we were. In the middle of language class, my husband, our language helper, and myself sitting at our dining table. Our house helper was in the kitchen washing our dishes, our kids were playing together beautifully in their room, and we were innocently learning new words, with nothing but postpositions and proper tenses floating about in our heads. Life was going on its merry way – our visions of sugar plums and new words coupled with the sounds of someone else scrubbing away the dried ketchup on my kids’ dinner plates and my children pretending they were super pups saving the day behind their closed door – it was as if I was in a magical wonderland.
But all y’all who’ve spent any time in a foreign country must know that there is a dumb tax to pay for those who are naive and found off their guard…
As our house helper (HH) was getting ready to leave, we snapped out of our sugar plum dreams and promptly remembered that it was the first of the month. This meant payday for our sweet HH! But there was a problem – we were gone for over half the month. Shoot… Does this mean we pay her for the whole month? Or just half the month? Bah!! Navigating cultural money issues here is a nightmare.
We quickly and directly asked our language helper what he would do, and he promptly indirectly answered “Do as you wish”. So, pressed for time, we made the decision to do what we normally would have done in the States: if someone only worked half their time, they would only get half their pay. So that’s what we did – we gave her half her pay.
She looked down at the money, frowned a bit, and walked out. No words, no goodbye. Just left.
The hubs and I stared at each other awkwardly from across the table, immediately knowing we had made the wrong decision. But it wasn’t just that we had made the wrong decision – we were all too familiar with the feeling of incompetence – it was the frustrated mix of feelings that comes from just not understanding where anyone is coming from. Feelings of injustice – because we Americans believe that you get paid according to how much work you do and anything else is called ‘freeloading’. And then this huge desire to bless the poor, but not sure how that fits in with wanting to be wise with our money – a huge value in this culture – and not wanting to seem like we are the rich Americans throwing money out their windows, giving it out left and right in inappropriate ways. We want to do this right – we want to help without hurting. But how? And in every single instance, it seems so foggy. No black and white answer. Oh, if only there was a guidebook for every single specific problem in this life…
Thankfully, this instance was a little more cut and dry than the others. Apparently, your HH receives a certain salary every month regardless of how many days she actually works. There is a saying here that if you cut the pay of a poor person, you cut off their life. And it totally makes sense – I get it. I just didn’t know. And let’s be real – this woman makes roughly $30/month from us as it is – thirty measly dollars. But we all know that it’s never really about the money as much as it is about matters of the heart.
So, after consulting our more experienced and incredibly wise teammates, we knew what we had to do. We had to give her the remainder of her salary.
The next time we saw her, we made things right. We apologized, and told her that we are still learning, and there are many things we don’t know. She smiled, said it was no problem, and we all went on with our lives, just as if nothing had ever happened.
But something had happened.
And in our silly mistake, we were able to be an example of humility and love to her. Apologizing directly for what we’d done and humbly recognizing the fact that we didn’t know everything – especially coming from a person with “higher” status to a person of “lower” status – it’s just not something that is done in this culture. It speaks volumes.
And not to pat ourselves on the back (because that feels weird and because we didn’t really do anything but mess up), but more or less wanting to put the Lord on display, showing how he can take any situation – any mistake – and make it good. He can use the teeny, tiniest little offering we have, and use it to surprise someone with love. How great is our Father’s love for us that he can even transform our mistakes as opportunities for love? Ultimately, we don’t know what impact our actions had on our HH, but I am excited to see what the Lord is going to do with it. And in a way, I am thankful for the mistake we made. For in that mistake, we had the opportunity to exemplify the humility of our Savior. For a single moment, we were able to get down from our pristine white tower, put ourselves in a lowly position, and make things right again. Humility and reconciliation. All from one silly little mistake.
Maybe being a newbie isn’t so bad after all…? 😉
By: Worker, Serving in Asia
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See what God is doing through United World Mission’s missionaries and partner, Viento Fresco, in Colombia. Lives are being changed as they experience the surprising love of Jesus through this ministry.
How can I help?
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A monk, a missionary, and a ladyboy get on a train. The ladyboy (born male, living as female) arrives first and is happily seated between two other passengers—pretty ladies should always have seats on trains. The missionary is content standing and frantically preparing for the class he is en route to lead. When the monk arrives, a seated passenger politely moves and offered their seat out of respect for the monk’s honored position. But a monk cannot touch a lady, so the open seat, which happens to be next to the ladyboy, can not be accepted.
Ladies seated everywhere. Finally more shuffling and another passenger gives up their seat, the ladyboy scoots down, and the missionary is called upon to sit between the monk and the ladyboy and act as a buffer—perhaps a cleansing agent of sorts. The whole train breathes a sigh of cultural relief.
It could be the lead-in for a joke. Or it could be everyday life.
When we first arrived here, our family was pleasantly surprised that so much diversity can coexist in such apparent harmony in our city. As our eyes grow more adjusted culturally, however, the glaring difference between tolerance (non-confrontation) and true love (grace-filled acceptance paired with truth-speaking) becomes more stark. People here are given tolerance – they can live their lives in almost any way they please. But their souls are not satisfied. You can see it behind their eyes, in their behavior, in their pushing of the cultural limits—they crave more. They surround themselves by either religious restraint or alternatively by complete freedom to indulge their passions. But one cannot simply restrain the quest for love out of the human soul. And passion is likewise an unfulfilling substitute. True love surprises us by at the same time restraining us and freeing us.
That missionary, the buffer between the monk and the ladyboy, gets to be part of bringing God’s surprising love to some very broken, abused, exploited, and vulnerable individuals who were born as men. Most of them are not currently living as either men or women…they have found a new niche for themselves, a place where they feel they belong, they have chosen a third gender. They change their bodies, wearing with pride what cultural conservatives (who seek to hide their sin) would call shameful. They wear their sin on the outside, as some say. Broken as they are, God is not ashamed to pursue them. They were created in his image. They have rebelled against Grace. They have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…just like every child of God. And God is calling them back to himself. He is making a name for himself among them.
God’s love is indeed surprising. It accepts us just as we are. It doesn’t sugar-coat our position and tell us to stay just like we are. (How many times have we signed a yearbook with the words that seemed loving, “don’t change ever”?) Love calls us upward. It calls us to holiness and then stands by us when we fail to be holy—I will never leave you or forsake you. It calls us to surrender our status symbols—our athletic prowess, business successes, long flowing hair (or other body parts whether natural or surgically enhanced, which will not be named here)—and yet does not demand transformation within a certain timeframe. Love is patient. It is kind. It carries a clear agenda and yet is not offensive. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
Some among the transgender in our city are finding hope in Christ’s love. Our family has the joy of partnering with a non-profit that is geared towards this special demographic—helping them find healing for trauma, further their education, and training them for “normal” jobs in mainstream society. Their journey of transformation is often long and confusing, riddled with questions about what God says about body-changing surgeries…or perhaps undoing those surgeries. Many find hope in Scriptures that refer to eunuchs, who may have been similarly surgically modified: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters” (Isaiah 56:4-5) There is hope for the broken who turn to God.
Our family is a completely imperfect embodiment of Christ’s love. You probably are too. But how is God calling you to surprise by love? And how is God’s love surprising you?
A monk, a missionary, and a ladyboy get on a train…
By: Daniel and Michelle, Serving in Asia
Surprised by Love
How is God calling you to Surprise by Love? One way may be to go and share His love with others in another nation. If you are sensing a call to the nations start here.Talk to a Coach
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Growing up in America, children are taught that relationships are a balance – meeting halfway. Each party has something to offer and each party has equal share in the relationship. I think this has also how I have viewed ministry for a long time. I have something to offer and someone else has something to offer me, which turns out to be a very transactional relationship. While compromise is a healthy aspect of relationships, always compromising fails to allow for unconditional Christ-like love. Relationships shouldn’t be transactional, they should be unconditionally meeting someone where they are, regardless of what it requires from you. My worldview on relationships began to change after being a Summit Intern at East Mountain.
East Mountain Interns are required to live in an intentional community. Everyone lives and does life together all in the same house at the same time. If anyone has had a roommate, they understand the need for grace. Now imagine a dozen roommates of varying gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and language barriers (needless to say, one needs a little divine grace).
Within this context, a transactional compromise-based relationship isn’t enough. Trying to meet someone very different than you halfway does not promote a healthy living situation.
The wealthy white American male can’t have a transactional relationship with the colored Afrikaans woman from a township. There is too much of an unconscious power dynamic. In such an intimate setting, unconditional love is required to build a healthy community. We must be willing to go all the way regardless of what we want to offer or want to give up. The relationship must be one of a love so great that even if all I do is take from her, she must still be willing to offer me more.
Relationships are hard, it’s difficult to love everyone all the time. It takes a lot to even be willing to meet someone half way and even more to meet them where they are. However, Christ met us where we were, not on his way to us. He didn’t love conditionally, he loved selflessly then called us to follow him and do as he did. I’m not perfect in this pursuit of loving unconditionally, but the relationships that have been built and grown from an unconditional love have been so much deeper and richer than I would have ever experienced otherwise.
By: Jameson Coslow, Intern at East Mountain South Africa
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After graduating from University, I had the opportunity to participate in the two month Avance summer immersion program in Mexico City. Fast forward two years later and I was still in Mexico City, still enjoying the times of sobremesa with obligatory sweet bread and coffee, and also serving as staff on Avance. Honestly, I am so grateful that God kept me in Mexico City longer than I had initially intended. As I look back, I notice that these years with Avance undeniably worked to grow, challenge, and shape me and my understanding of our Father. I would like to share with you two thoughts, which are still developing as I continue to learn, but were big themes during my time in Mexico City.
- To the Mexicans I became as a Mexican
I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:22-23
Being an immersion program, Avance emphasizes becoming as the people you are serving, so that the Gospel may be lived and shared in a meaningful manner. Learning from Paul’s lived example – who I suppose learned from the example of our Incarnate God – we hope to become all things to all people that some may be saved. So when in Mexico, I learned how to roll a tortilla properly when eating, to greet the room with a kiss, to navigate through the Virgin of Guadalupe topic, and to wait patiently for a Mexican minute. The most difficult and most rewarding moments of learning to become as a Mexican, were those moments when I submitted aspects of myself which I thought were crucial pieces of my identity. Every time when those pieces of me were pitted against my ultimate identity as Christ-follower and its implications, they did not hold. I learned to surrender them with the hope that by doing so, by becoming as a Mexican, by all means, some might be saved. I have noticed that people often appreciate and respond more openly to others who attempt to understand and adapt to their way of life. They are likelier to listen more intently to the words of someone who has taken the time to get to know them first. Moreover, as we become as the people we serve, we also act as a living illustration, albeit a very slight fraction, of what Jesus did when he shed all to become as man.
- Before Anyone Else
You shall love theLord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.
And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Like Jesus said to the Pharisee, loving the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind comes before anyone/thing else. While in Mexico with Avance, I learned that this was surprisingly easy for me to neglect. It crept up on me like a frog sitting in water gradually getting hotter. As things got busier and other such excuses came up, loving my neighbours and the ministry in which I was serving become my first priority. The love for my neighbours and my ministry were no longer a result of the love I had for our Father which was a response to His overwhelming love for me. Needless to say, I became sidetracked with the love of the task and forgot about loving the One for whom all this was for. I learned that there can be a great difference between committing to Christian service and committing my heart, soul, and mind to our Father. It is something I continue to strive for, that before anyone/thing else, I may love the Lord our God with my entire being.
By: Isabel Tang, Avance Mobilizer for LAM Canada
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Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” Winston Churchill said, “I act therefore I am.” Jesus said, “I am.” These are statements about identity. The rationalists tell us that we are the sum of our thoughts, our ideas, our visions and plans. The pragmatists tell us that we are what we do, the sum of our activity and action. But the one true triune God, Father, Son and Spirit says that he is the source of our identity. He is and therefore we are. Our identity, purpose and significance flow out of relationship with our Father in Heaven who loves and invites us to be with him.
I don’t know about you, but this is a hard truth to swallow for a recovering doer like me. Somewhere deep in the recesses of my soul I am so often tempted with the lie “you are what you accomplish”. At times I struggle profoundly to find contentment and rest in the midst of a ministry and life that seems to be so founded on the quantity and quality of my activity.
How refreshing it is to discover that the invitation to be with God is also an invitation to be with God’s people! The triune God who is in his very nature, community, invites us to find our identity in the context of community with himself and one another. For in the communion of saints – unity with and communion with the members of God’s own family, past, present and future – God reveals his glory, his power and his kingdom to a dark and dying world.
The centrality of a doing centered ministry philosophy unravels when we begin to understand that our mission – what we do – emanates from our being – who we are. We are God’s beloved sons and daughters, members of his own household and the very body of Christ. We are a holy, righteous, redeemed, cherished people whose life together reflects the life of God.
This life together constitutes both the beginning and end of our mission. The community is the sacred space where the intermingling of personalities and gifts provide the environment for a person to encounter the living God, repent, believe and grow into spiritual maturity. From this position of affirmation, resource and example we go to exercise our God given assignments in the world.
But the community is not purely instrumental in nature. The fellowship of the saints is not a tool that God uses to accomplish the more important task of evangelism or social justice. Rather, the picture at the end of redemptive history is a community of God’s people living with God glorifying him forever. We are the chosen people, the body of Jesus who will one day participate in the wedding supper of the Lamb, finally, ultimately, made one with the bride groom. Until that day our life together is the space where the presence of God dwells in the world. We are the salt of the earth – the space where the hope of the world is preserved until God returns to reign. We are the light of the world – the place where the world must come to find their identity, worth and significance.
The preeminence of being over doing is one of the truths that guides our life together at East Mountain. The communal disciplines of table fellowship, reading Scripture, sharing authentically, and prayer are central in our weekly rhythms. These rhythms anchor our being and provide a place from which to offer our gifts and life to others. As we enter into a new year I am hopeful that together we will move more deeply into our identity in Christ and ability to be with him and one another.
By: Gabe Smith, Co-Founder/ Lead Visionary at East Mountain
Serving in South Africa
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