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Posts Tagged ‘Christian missions’

rain in athensIt was raining hard this morning when we woke up in Athens.  Our apartment for this LST project is near the center of the city, so we are surrounded by tall buildings which block the sun a bit.  All this to say, that it was really a dark, rainy morning.

Sherrylee and I take Uber to the church building every day, so upon arriving, we went up to the third floor where Sherry’s classroom is. The church has only had access to the third floor for about five months, so, of course, there is no electricity yet. To explain the delay would take the whole page, so let’s just say it is always moderately dark on an average sunny day, and on a dark, rainy day, Sherry wondered how her students would be able to do their work—and there were no ready answers.

At the morning huddle, we were warned not to go near the government offices downtown because anarchists have gathered from all over Europe to demonstrate for . . . . no, against governments, I think. Eleni also said that probably only ten people would come today because people from super dry climates don’t like to get out in the rain, especially with their children, so our clothing distribution this afternoon was postponed and our common meal scaled down.

All in all, it promised to be a rather dark, dreary day.

At the end of our English classes for the day, we have a 30-minute devotional with all the participants, where we talk about God in four different languages.  Everything is translated, so one minute of a message takes four minutes to deliver to all the participants.

About one minute before we started, I was asked to present the message at the devotional.  Maybe because we had all been dealing with the weather all day, I thought to myself, Jesus said many things about rain, so let’s talk about rain.  I did a quick search and actually chose a passage from Acts 14, where Paul and Barnabas talk about rain to the people of Lystra

We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

We had expected 10, but we had about 50 Syrians, Iranians, Iraqis, Kurds, and others who gathered to hear the word of God that said the rain is God showing kindness on them, showing Himself to them, so they can find Him. And God not only gives you rain and crops that become the food that fills your stomachs, He also wants to feed you spiritually so that your hearts will be full of joy!  I concluded by saying,

So when you go out in the rain today, don’t let it depress you or make you afraid. Remember that this rain is an act of kindness to you from the Living God who loves you. Let that give you joy and make you want to know and trust this Living God.

The message to the people of Lystra was still powerful and alive for the people of Athens two thousand years later.  It wasn’t a dark day after all!

 

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refugees welcomeI visited with a Christian man from Albania today who moved to Greece seven years ago because he felt called to plant a church among the million Albanians who had fled to Greece in the 80s and 90s.  The Soviet Union was quite successful in purging all of its satellites—but especially Albania–of Christianity, so the million Albanians then in Greece seemed like a ripe mission field.  He and his family moved to Greece and began a church which then multiplied into other Albanian churches throughout Greece.

When the refugees started pouring into Athens, these Albanian Christians felt like they had to do something in spite of the fact that many of them had been refugees themselves. Every evening, they now go out on the streets of Athens looking for homeless, hungry, and otherwise needy refugees. On the spot, they give them sandwiches and clothes and try to give them information to help them find long-term solutions.

While I was visiting with my new Albanian friend, Sherrylee was visiting with a Brit who is in Athens running an organization that helps Muslim refugees who become Christians find housing. Most of these new Christians are refugees who have nothing anyway, but when they become Christians, they often are expelled from their family, harassed by their community, and sometimes physically attacked by their former Muslim friends.  These people literally leave everything and everyone they know in order to follow Jesus.

About the time we were finishing these conversations, an American attorney from Colorado walked up and put the keys to the upstairs in my pocket to return for him.  He and another attorney are in Athens for two weeks to give free legal counsel to refugees.  The Omonia church is providing them meeting space so that they can help the refugees coming to the church for help.

Jesus in Egypt

This is not a Christmas picture. This family is seeking refuge in Egypt!

While Elena (one of the missionaries at the Omonia church in Athens) was telling the group about the attorneys who would be here for two weeks, a refugee spoke up and asked if any doctors were coming. She said, “Not yet, but we hope some will come later!” 

Then she told the 70-80 people in the room not to be afraid because God loved them and that He is near. He is not far away, and if anyone tells them differently, then they were not telling the truth. (I love her boldness!)  She then asked everyone to stand for the time of prayer: I prayed in English, one brother prayed in Arabic, and another in Farsi. After the prayer, the church fed all us.

Here we were . . . in a room full of Muslims . . . praying to Our Father, who is an Unknown God to many of them . . . in languages that most often curse Christians . . . with Christian workers from countries that American Christians usually consider mission fields . . . . breaking bread.

I pray that you can imagine yourself in this room too—because God is here!

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“We used to pray for God to open the doors to the Middle East,” the tired missionary said today after supper, “but when he did we were naked—totally unprepared!”  I was reminded of those days not so long ago when all the talk at every missions conference was about the 10-40 window, that band around the earth between 10  and 40 degrees north of the equator.  We were always reminded that two-thirds of the world’s population lived in that band and that the countries in that belt included the least Christian and least accessible countries to Christian missionaries.

40_Window_world_map

               My second thought was less noble, i.e., that we had truly prayed for open doors, but we wanted those doors to be open over there, so that we could send the Gospel to them. We did not really want the doors to open the other direction and have all of those people in our neighborhood.

               But God’s ways are not our ways!  Today, here in Athens, I sat at the table with two young men born in Syria, and we read the story of Jesus. A tall, blonde 18-year-old sat down to join us. He is an American citizen, born in Pakistan and raised in Afghanistan.  I had hoped that the Iraqi Kurd would join us, but he was too busy registering new people for English classes as they walked in the door.  He did, however, have time to introduce me to two Iranians, whom we invited to join us tomorrow.

               So if we finally do recognize that God has moved millions of Muslim people out of their countries—at least temporarily—and moved them mostly to Greece and Italy and Germany, are we western Christians indeed unprepared—naked??

               The first step in preparing is to open our hearts to those God is bringing to us! God so loved the world . . . so His children will love the world as well.  And we will know who our neighbor is. As Jesus preached it, the neighbor was the Samaritan, the foreigner. Not the fear of terrorism, not the fear of lost jobs, not the fear of social impact, there is no justification for ignoring the homeless, penniless refugees who have fled religious or political persecution and who have knocked on our door asking for help.

That is why this church of Christ in Athens has opened its doors to any needy person who walks in the door. Their work is horribly underfunded and understaffed and amazingly under-organized, BUT God has provided them with the ability to do more than they could have ever imagined—just as He has promised to do for all of his obedient children.  At least hundreds and probably thousands of refugees have come through their doors. They have been noticed, fed, clothed, served, and taught about Jesus—unashamedly!

We who lead churches in America need to check our hearts to see if they are open or shut to all people who God brings into our neighborhood.  Our missionary (btw, a woman) told us about a church in Norway that had refused to let a woman in a hijab (head covering) enter their building to join their assembly. I wonder how our American churches would respond to the same situation?

Don’t pray for doors to open unless you are ready for your own front door to open!

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imitastionBecause of internet issues, this post is coming out two days after returning from Honduras! Sorry. mw

I’m in Tegucigalpa, Honduras today, teaching in the Baxter Seminar at the Baxter Institute. Baxter Institute was founded in the mid-sixties and has served Latin America faithfully as an institution of higher learning since then. In addition to the college-level theological education offered to their students, a medical clinic has been opened on the 19-acre campus in the heart of this capital city in order to show the love of Christ in the community.

I’m here at the invitation of Stephen Teel, the fifth president of Baxter and a former missionary to Argentina. Let’s Start Talking worked with Teel in the mid-90s in one of our first works in Buenos Aires. His invitation to teach at this Seminar—which, by the way, is attended by over 200 Latin church leaders from not only Honduras, but also El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico, and only a handful of us Gringos from North America—was very intentional.

Steve and I were talking this morning, and I was telling him about the great interest in LST that I saw in the class I was teaching. He was delighted and told me that he wanted me to emphasize how the LST strategy of helping people improve their English was especially valuable in Latin America because it tended to appeal to people who perhaps were a little better educated, a little more professionally ambitious, a little better connected to the world—in general, a group of people that have been more difficult to penetrate with the Gospel.

I recognized this need from previous conversations with missionaries in Brazil, in Ecuador, in Chile, and other Latin American countries, where many of our churches are quite poor and lack strong national leadership—mostly because of lack of education and resources for developing leaders among a social strata that is never called upon to lead.

Then, however, Steve surprised me a little by saying that too many of the churches that he is familiar with know no other way to evangelize than to knock doors, and hold gospel meetings, to which they find great resistance (naturally!), so they have tended toward medical clinics—to which they find much more receptivity (naturally!) because they are giving their neighbors something they really need.

Furthermore, Teel said that the churches here have not seen other types of evangelism like LST, so they can hardly imagine it.

I’ve heard that before in many other countries as well. People learn by imitating what they see, not by reading brotherhood newspapers or attending lectureships. When they see it in action, they can decide if it is worth imitating—or not.

I’ve often wondered why so many mission sites seem to be stuck in the 1950s! Their theology, their worship, and their activities seem all to have been inherited from the missionaries who first taught them and who first modeled for them the way to do things. That seems to be the obvious reason for a kind of spiritual stagnation that knows no political boundaries.

I have often wondered why these wonderful—usually small—mission churches have not continued to grow and to mature—all of which would, of course, imply changing—YIKES!

My single working theory for many years has been that the early missionaries taught them a formulaic Christianity. One pattern, one way of worshipping, one acceptable way of living, dressing, acting—all of which, of course, was the pattern and formula that the missionaries themselves believed to be true and appropriate at the time of their greatest influence on that church.

Now, however, I think I’m going to add another reason to my working hypothesis, that is, that these small mission churches have not had enough contact with either more mature Christians, or with Christians who have had different or “newer” experiences in faith. And, I’m afraid that when they did, they were so fearful of breaking the pattern that they were given that they labeled false and heretical ideas and actions that were simply different.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. As I was sitting in the devotional this morning with 200+ people singing their hearts out in Spanish (of which I could only pick out a few words), I thought to myself. If these were African Christians, somebody would be up moving with the music (otherwise known as “dancing.”) If these were almost any large gathering of North American Christians, someone, if not many, would be raising at least one hand in praise. If we were in Asia, the singing would be too loud. And they did not sing a single song that I recognized as translated from English—something pretty rare all over the world among Churches of Christ.

The danger is not the diverse expressions and words of these global Christians; the danger is the breach of fellowship when anything but the familiar is witnessed or experienced. Instead of fearing that person who sings a different song, who introduces a “better” understanding of familiar scriptures, who wants to do something different, we who travel between such churches, we who support these works, we who do short-term works in these churches need to encourage growth and maturing, to encourage learning, nurture good changes.

The best way to do this may not be to hold a weeklong seminar on “Changes That You Desperately Need” as if we are the Perfect Ones and they are the Ignorant Ones, rather to go in a spirit of humility and gently act out our faith—act out our worship—act out our new ways of evangelizing—act out our new ways of serving—and let them follow Paul in leaving the bad and holding on to what is good.

Thank you, brothers and sisters in Honduras, for teaching me this. I am going to do things differently in the future because of what you have taught me.

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marseilleOne month ago today, I started this particular trip through Europe on behalf of Let’s Start Talking. I’ve tried to avoid making the posts during this time simple travel logs, but rather I’ve tried to record reflections as I’ve traveled.

Today is different though!  I have to tell you about the wonderful day Sherrylee and I had yesterday in Marseille, France.

I began the morning scavenging the neighborhood outside our hotel for croissants and coffee for breakfast, trying to beat the $20/person cost of breakfast in the hotel. I found a beautiful little Pattisserie/Chocolateria just about a block away where I got the croissants, but I had to get the coffee in the hotel because none of the little “bars” in the area had takeaway cups for their coffee. Still it was much less expensive this way—and much more interesting.

Craig and Katie Young, missionaries in Marseille for 23 years, picked us up and took us to a little eating place in downtown Marseille. I hardly remember what we ate though because we had the greatest conversation with them!  Of course, we talked about their LST project that they are having this summer, but the talk quickly slipped over to life—as it often does, we find, with missionaries.

It is not really the creature comforts, the lifestyle, or anything material about “home” that missionaries really sacrifice when they move to a foreign country (and most would be embarrassed even using the word sacrifice), it’s the deep relationships with other Christians and opportunities to share with people who have had similar experiences that they miss.

To whom do they turn when they want to talk about what it will be like to have a baby in their new home, to start school with their six-year-old, to face high school years in a country that you have never experienced high school in??

What do you do when your children start leaving home and going off to college in America?  What do you do with elderly parents when you live a continent away?  What do you do when your children are seriously dating people they’ve met, but you’ve never been closer than 5000 miles to the person they are falling in love with?

To whom do they turn when suddenly their body starts slowing down: is this normal, is this allowed for missionaries?  How do they explain that to their sponsoring church?  “I need to do less,” might not go over so well? “I need to come to the States more often to see my children—or my grandchildren!”  Will their supporters go for that? Our mission partners are leaving—now what are we supposed to do? Stay by ourselves? Start over somewhere else?  And who can they talk to about these things?

These are the kinds of conversations Sherrylee and I have with missionaries all over the world, and because we are pretty gray now (although Sherrylee doesn’t show it J), we’ve been through some of it and have talked with others who have been through most of it, God can use us as listening ears and sounding boards for these saints who have served most of their lives abroad.  We had that kind of conversation with Craig and Katie, from which we were blessed and hope they were too.

During that conversation, however, we realized that we had the opportunity to use the afternoon to train the young people in their Christians On Mission program to be used in the LST follow-up, so hastily Craig called them together and Sherrylee and I spent an hour with about six of their students, teaching them that the Word is the Teacher and that they are the Illustration and what the ramifications of those two principles are for working with unbelievers.

Craig and Katie started Christians On Mission for French young people, not as preacher training, but as training to be a strong Christian. Max and Phillippe Dauner also teach in the program. Currently they have students from the US, from Tanzania, and from France.

Immediately following our hour of training, we went to their Children’s hour, where about 20 kids met to sing and hear Miss Katie tell them about Easter eggs—and the real story of Easter.  During the last part of the hour, Miss Sherrylee got to tell them all about LST and getting their parents interested in practicing their English when the American students are here in the summer.

Between the Children’s hour and the Ladies Bible study that Sherrylee was going to speak to, we had 30 minutes.  Sherrylee had accidentally wandered into a neighbor’s house, thinking it was part of the church building. . . . ., but it turned out that this neighbor had been baptized a couple of years ago, so as Craig was explaining to the neighbor why Sherrylee had walked into his house, he invited us in for tea and cookies. Khered (?) is his name and he is Algerian.  He and his wife want to return someday to Algeria, which could be a great opportunity to carry the Good News with him.  He says he is the first Christian in his family in over one thousand years!  Think about that!

Sherrylee talked to the women’s Bible study about LST, then Craig took us to a little hole-in-the-wall kind of “snack bar” named Ishtar!  The owner is Iraqi, an Iraqi Christian—Chaldean Christian.  Where do those words take you?  To Ur, or the Babylonians, or where?

In broken French, a smattering of German, and almost no English we talked with him and his brother-in-law and a couple of other people about the millions of Christians that had been in Iraq and protected under Saddam Hussein, but who were immediately persecuted and killed after the Iraqi War by the Islamic fundamentalist until today there are only a few hundred thousand left, mostly in the north among the Kurds—at least that is the way it was reported last night by these Iraqis to us.

As we ate, one of them led us in prayer and then said the Lord’s Prayer in Aramean—the same language Jesus used.  It was a special moment. With the flat bread and the wine on the table, it felt like communion.

We fell into bed last night, having said goodby to Craig and Katie, but thanking God for them, for the saints here in Marseille, and for the blessings we had received from Algeria and Iraq.

26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.Yet he is actually not far from each one of us. Acts 17:26,27

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_foreignmissions2 (1)In Part One of this blog, I reviewed briefly our history of foreign missions in churches of Christ and then listed characteristics of our efforts, which were

  • We only have the stamina for harvesting, not for planting and nurturing.
  • We believe we should be able to work everywhere else in the world cheaper than in the U.S. 
  • Our mission work is dependent on how many self-motivated missionaries surface in our fellowship as opposed to a strategic global vision.
  • We are not by nature collaborative.
  • Our missionaries tend to be “lone rangers! 
  • We have been and are still too often negligent in caring for missionaries on the field, but especially when they return.

Click here, if you would like to review the comments that went with these points.

 

I suggested at the end of the last post that these particular characteristics would not serve us well going into the near future of foreign missions, so in order to become more effective in carrying the Gospel to the whole world, we are going to have to work differently.  In this and the next post, we will explore these two ideas.

Churches of Christ are represented in a little over 90 of the 196 independent countries of the world with probably around 1000 American workers outside of the United States. We have a lot of work to do—and the challenge of world evangelism is growing. Let me outline why I say that:

  • Americans are less well-liked in the world. After WWII, Americans were welcomed as defenders of liberty. Even into the 60s (our second big wave of mission efforts), Americans were relatively popular because we had defended the world against Communism. That glow was slightly tarnished by Vietnam, but re-polished in most parts of the world through the Reagan era and the collapse of the Soviet Union (another big Mission Wave).  Most of that global popularity has been lost.  Look at this map, charting those who have a favorable view toward the U.S.

worldmap

What you see in dark blue are those countries who like us. Even the other bluish countries have fewer than 50% positive responses.

My point is not about U.S. politics and its participation in the global community, rather that being an American abroad is, at best, no great advantage and, at worst, can be outright dangerous—none of which is really good for the future of foreign missions from the U.S..

  • The world is now urban and becoming increasingly more so!  In 1900 there were only 12 cities of 1 million population or more, but these 12 became 400 by the year 2000. You probably aren’t surprised that Singapore is 89% urban, but Congo is 41%–that’s surprising!  Forty cities in the world boast populations of 5 million plus—and 80% of those are in poor countries, so it is not just the industrialized world where the flight to cities is dramatically changing the landscape.

We Americans have had good rural churches, and now we have good suburban churches, but urban churches are a challenge we have not yet figured out at home, much        less abroad.  Global urbanization is making missions more challenging for us.

  • Poorer countries are getting wealthier. (“The Whole World Is Getting Richer, and That’s Good News,” Charles Kenny, Bloomberg Businessweek, July 29, 2013).  Just ask Google if poor countries are getting richer and look at all the evidence.   If we accept this as true, then here are my conclusions for foreign missions:

o   There are no cheap places in the world to go!! The most expensive city for expatriates in the world is Luanda, Angola—did you expect that? Number four is N’Djamena in Chad. New York City is #32 and the only U.S. city in the top 50!

o   If poorer countries (like African countries) are getting more urban and wealthier, then they are going to be less and less impressed by our humanitarian approach to foreign missions.

To summarize, globally speaking, the people that US–sent missionaries would want to approach view Americans less favorably, they are typically living in very large cities with costs that Americans can hardly afford to live in, and even the poorer places are climbing out of poverty and need our benevolence and services less and less.

These are the challenges in foreign missions for churches of Christ in the near future.

 

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ICOM 2014My dad played the violin–not the fiddle, the violin. He had polio when he was ten, and, fortunately, it didn’t leave him crippled, but he could never really run again, so he couldn’t play sports like the other boys. He chose to play in the orchestra–in the high school orchestra, which was the pride of Glasco, Kansas.

When I was eight and in the third grade, my school offered free violin lessons, so, of course, I started getting out of class one or two days a week and taking violin lessons. I used my dad’s violin.

By the time I was in the fifth grade, I was the only one who was playing at my level at the Bonnie Brae Elementary School, so my weekly lessons were private lessons–and still free. Because I was pretty good for my age–maybe–my teacher would take me to other schools and we would play short programs together in their assembly, probably trying to get younger children to enroll in the free strings programs at their schools.

In the All-City Elementary school orchestra, I sat on the first row with four or five other kids, so I guess I was decent, but the perk I really liked was that because I was in the violin program, each year I was taken out of school one day with the other kids in strings to attend a special concert by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at the Will Rogers Auditorium. I knew nothing about what they played or who the composers were, but I loved the music–the huge blend of all of those different instruments: violins, violas, cellos, bass violins, oboes, bassoons–even the triangle and tympani.

How could all of those different people–maybe 40-50 players–with so many different gifts and playing so many different instruments at the same time produce a result that was so beautiful?

The word symphony comes to English from two Greek words: sun, which means “together,” and phone, which means “sound.” The word is usually translated harmony, harmonious, or harmoniously, when talking about music, but is also commonly used to mean to agree, to be of one mind, or to connect the most literal meaning with the vernacular: to be in unison.

Matthew used a derivative of symphony in chapter 18, verse 19, quoting Jesus he writes, “Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth are in agreement (symphōnēsōsin) about anything whatever you may ask, it will be done for you by my Father who is in heaven.”

About five years ago, we started attending the National Missionary Convention of the Independent Christian Church/Church of Christ. Having been involved with foreign missions our whole life together, Sherrylee and I have been to many, many missions conferences and mission workshops in our branch of the Restoration Movement–and because of our direct involvement we know lots and lots of the people involved.

But just across the aisle at the NMC the first time, our most common feeling was: we don’t know anybody here!

That was five or six years ago. Last week we attended the International Conference on Missions (ICOM), which is the new name of the NMC. Over 10,000 people attended the 2-3 day event, held in the Convention Center in Columbus, OH–one of the largest single venues I’ve ever been in. One huge section of the convention center was set aside for “exhibitors,” which at most conventions means businesses which are trying to sell you something, either immediately or after you get home.

At ICOM it was different. Picture an area the size of your nearest Super Wal-Mart or Super Target–not just your neighborhood sized–and then fill that whole area with small booths, each one representing a mission effort of some kind.

There were individual missionaries, like Pino Neglia, missionary to Lecce, Italy and to Albania. We met him three years ago at his booth and in 2014, LST sent him a team to be a part of his efforts. Eric Estrada (not the movie star), missionary to Murcia, Spain, was there. We sent him three teams in 2014.

There were also plenty of mission organizations like us: Pioneer Bible Translators, Open Door Libraries, Holy Land Christian Foundation–and other businesses and organizations that support missions: transportation, security, training ministries, even fund raising ministries.

It was a symphony! So much diversity of talent and interest. Long-term, short-term, house church, mega-church, men and women, social justice and evangelism, academic and common, all these different instruments but all playing their part in the same symphony: the Missio Dei — the Mission of God!

I came home wondering why we in Churches of Christ have so much trouble playing together? Many have already spoken to this question, but one part of the answer is that we are rapidly losing our sense of together. We know the music, we know the director, but too many of us do “what is right in our own eyes,” a phrase from Judges 21:25 that introduces some of the darkest days for God’s chosen people Israel.

Our papers first created a sense of together, but we are down to one, the Christian Chronicle, and it struggles to survive. Then our lectureships held us together–but they are a shadow of what they used to be–perhaps with the exception of Pepperdine Bible Lectures. Even our song books used to keep us together, but we don’t all sing the same songs anymore!

Our symphony is not in harmony. We try to have a Global Missions Conference every three years–and we hope to have 1000 people attend. The World Missions Workshop for college students is barely hanging on to life. There are lots of small, independent gatherings for missions, nice little quartets, but where is the symphonic chorus?

After the fifth grade, I changed schools. I started attending Fort Worth Christian School, which offered no free violin lessons–so I quit playing the violin. Two years later, when FWC started a band program, I took up the trombone and played through college. My brother Gary was three years behind me in school, but that was not a big gap at FWC in those years. He and I were the whole trombone section of the band for 4-5 years. We didn’t march–we were too few; we did well just to have enough of the required instruments to play at all.

We as a fellowship have been satisfied too long with being a small non-marching band.

Jesus said he wanted a symphony.

We dare not forget how to play in harmony together.

 

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