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Posts Tagged ‘missions’

Glasco ChristianOne week ago we were worshipping with a little Christian church in Glasco, Kansas, of which in 1870, my great-great grandfather Mahlon Woodward and his wife Mary Ann were founding members.  After lunch at church with people who knew my grandparents and my dad, we accidentally went to a poetry reading that had been advertised as a Smithsonian program on Kansas waterways! I suppose towns of 500 can’t be picky!

Today, one week later, Sherrylee and I worshipped with the Omonia Church of Christ in Athens, Greece! Ten days or so ago, the missionaries in Athens put out a call for immediate help with their English program for refugees. Some very generous donors called us and said that they would sponsor us, if we were able to go, so here we are, getting ready to start tomorrow helping people mostly from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan, and Afghanistan improve their English and become better acquainted with Jesus. 

MunichOur international flight was via Munich, a new airport, but the same city where in 1971 two pretty clueless young newly-weds landed and began their mission journey together.  We are slower than we were then, but wiser, I hope—certainly more experienced.  While we have definitely changed, the world has changed also. When we left for Munich in 1971, Christians faced Iron Curtains and Cold Wars and Walls. We could just barely drive to Berlin back then, much less the Arab world. Now Christians can go to a small church building in Athens and work in the Middle East. Look around your neighborhood and tell me the world has not changed and that the nations are not coming!

So we may need to work differently than we did forty-six years ago, but people are still riding around in their chariots and saying, who will help me understand what I’m reading here about Jesus.  And God still uses those he has used before–regardless of their job status or age–to serve and teach Searchers.

Sherrylee and I will be in Athens for three weeks, and I hope to post regularly.  Pray for us—for health and strength and courage and boldness.

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Relay-race_02Almost three years ago, Sherrylee and I gave the LST board of directors our two-year notice as we had agreed to do many years ago.  The LST Board of Directors wisely had been discussing the eventual transition from the Founders (Sherrylee and me) to a Successor probably for at least five years before we gave notice. In fact, the “Succession Plan” as it was always called in those earlier board meetings is what eventually drove us to the first Strategic Plan in 2013.  Afterwards, Sherrylee and I knew what we were supposed to do to start the transition process.

Just a few months ago, I was sitting with two wonderful kingdom workers who were both in their late 70s, living in a difficult, foreign country, directors of a local non-profit organization—and after eight years there, just exhausted from the physical and spiritual demands of their mission!  As they told me over dinner one night, they had repeatedly told their American Board of Directors and their supporters that one of their top priorities was to find their replacements, and while everyone acknowledged the need, not much was really done to move the process forward.  A few comments in newsletters and a little correspondence with casual inquiries were all that the older couple themselves could do while keeping up with the strenuous daily demands of their foreign ministry.

I told them that they needed to give notice!  Not that they should create a hardship for their Board of Directors, but they needed to do what was right both for the mission and for themselves.  And by giving notice—in this case they decided (quite generously, I believe, for their age) to give their board two years notice—they were also placing the responsibility for the continuation of the mission squarely on the shoulders both of those who truly carry the responsibility as well as those in the best position to successfully find their successors.

If you have been reading carefully, you will have picked up on the fact that we gave our two-year notice almost three years ago!  Perhaps where there is tension between a board of directors and their executive, the official notice might be an irreversible legal step, for most of us in non-profits it is probably more a statement of intent.  In our case, the process of finding a successor took longer than anticipated. For others there could be financial considerations, a health issue, or even questions of momentum that might make the official hand-off date other than what was anticipated. In some cases, the succession might even need to occur earlier for the good of both the executive and/or the organization.

Here are my conclusions about giving notice as a step in the transition process:

  • The Board of Directors should create a Succession Plan long before it is needed, and this plan should include an appropriate and agreed upon timeframe for their executive to give notice.
  • If the Board does not have a succession plan or one that includes giving notice, then the executive should initiate the conversation with them and encourage them to develop one.
  • If the Board does not grasp their responsibilities for succession, the Executive may need to simply give notice on his/her own initiative, in order to raise the urgency level—for the sake of the organization or for him/herself.
  • Only in rare cases, does either the Board or the Executive need to feel that the Notice must be strictly enforced. Neither the organization nor the executive should view it as a bludgeon, rather as a green light signaling the start of a slightly unpredictable journey into a new future for both.

 

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Relay-race_02Just to show how difficult it is to transition from Founders to Successors, let’s be very honest and answer the questions that I said every Founder was thinking when the question of succession is raised:

  • Who knows more about this ministry than I do?
  • Who is willing to do what I am willing to do?
  • Who will cast a vision that others will follow like they follow our vision?
  • Who is willing to risk what I have been willing to risk?
  • What kind of outcome could be expected without the great risk?
  • Who can lead this ministry better than I can in spite of my age, my health, my family, my . . . ?

The truth of the matter is that unless your Founder has serious mental or health issues or has done something that morally/ethically disqualifies him/her, then the obvious answer is nobody knows more, no one will do more or risk more personally, and no one has more followers already in step with their vision than Founders. 

And the longer they have led, and the more successful they have been, the harder it is to move them out!

So what reason are you going to give to convince this Leader that he/she needs to step down? 

First, you need to consider that you may not convince them to step down.  Your board may be able to force them out—but unless they are totally out of favor with staff, volunteers, and donors, you will suffer great damage by doing so. The whole ministry/organization may be threatened, and by forcing them out, you may find yourself in competition with their new, parallel organization!  Not good.  Allowing them to continue to lead until such time that they are persuaded by some of the observations listed below may be the only viable strategy.  Sorry, if you were looking for a miracle way out!

Two approaches that I don’t think will work, but that are often attempted anyway are

  • You may be able to appeal to them on the basis of age, health, or family situation. Aren’t you ready to spend more time with your family, with your grandchildren?  Aren’t you going to be spending a great deal of time caring for your spouse now?  You need to focus your energy now on recovering your health/taking care of yourself. It may take family members to convince them, close friends, even their respected church leaders.  And while their own health or age might seem like strong appeals to you, don’t forget that the Founder is used to being sacrificial and may have a “leave it all on the field” attitude about the ministry/organization that keeps them from being moved by what they see as self-serving rationalizations.
  • You may appeal to them on the basis of popular opinion. The staff thinks it’s time . . . . The board thinks you should step down, or Everyone sees it, but you . . . . Don’t forget though that Founders have always had the courage to go against the mainstream or they probably wouldn’t have done what they did.  They probably did not lead by taking polls, so I don’t think this is going to achieve a congenial, voluntary resignation.

My only good suggestion to you is to appeal to their desire for the success of the ministry/organization! More than their own personal welfare, they have given everything so that the ministry/organization can accomplish the greater good which they desired. If you can help them understand that this greater good—the advance of the Kingdom of God, the health of children, the care of the aged, any benevolent cause that was worth someone giving years and years plus all the tangible and intangible sacrifices that Founders make—that their cause will be advanced by their stepping down, then you will have pricked their soul.

As Sherrylee and I looked at our own ministry and what was best for it, several very specific situations propelled us toward our decision to step down voluntarily after thirty-six years. I’ll share these with you with the hope that it will help you with your Founder:

  • As I mentioned in the first of this series, our experiences in our youth watching Founders being locked out of their organizations was so painful that we determined to stop before someone wanted our keys.
  • Although reasonably healthy, our age has made extensive international travel much harder on us physically.
  • The financial responsibility for the ministry had always been heavy, but it began to feel like a burden. We thought that was our problem, not the ministry’s.
  • We have found ourselves getting further and further away from those who volunteer to go, not even recognizing the names of some who have done LST for several years.
  • Sherrylee and I are boomers. When we began working with students, we were dealing with Gen Xers. We’ve now gone through Y’s and are well into millennials.   We have also gone from moderns to post-moderns, and some even say post postmoderns.  We are less sure that we are in touch with the way students today are thinking.

We still believe in the mission; we still see the vision in front of us, and we are still sold out to the goal of sharing Jesus and sharing ourselves—and we will be until the day we die! But, honestly, we believed in that mission before LST began.

I’m very grateful to our board of directors, all of whom are dear friends and people who have been a part of the Let’s Start Talking Ministry, who have understood and walked with us through our own transition.  My prayer is that you will be as wise and gentle with those Founders who need your help with a pretty difficult moment in their lives.

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NetworksI’m sitting with a small stack of fascinating articles on my desk that revolve around a phenomenon called movement networks.

These articles are all talking about ways of collaborating in order to accomplish goals that are greater than any one organization could ever accomplish on its own.  In fact, sometimes the objectives are so large that they require a movement, not just certain actions in order to successfully accomplish them.

When I think of tasks so large that no one entity can begin to accomplish it, I naturally go immediately to the task of going into all the world with the gospel. 

When I was a boy, I was so proud of our church which sent a missionary to Africa and one to Brazil at the same time.  I don’t know what was happening in the other 170 countries though?

Then as a college student, I joined a ministry to go to the Northeast U.S. We worked in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, and other heavily populated states, but the 20 of us really didn’t make a very big dent.

I’ve since worked with lots of churches that were very proud of sponsoring their missionaries fully—or not at all!  They were seriously trying to do missions well, and it was these churches that were held up as the model for others.

But I keep looking around and I don’t see us making a very big dent in the task God gave us!  We have to do something differently unless we want to continue getting the same results.

I wonder if movement networking might be something to try.  The studies say a movement is this:

Movement “a collection of persons or groups who come together around a common concern.  Typically their mission is to bring about some type of societal change relative to their concern.”

Movements, they say, are characterized by

  • collective intentional action,
  • continuity of sustained action,
  •  outsider status,
  • scope and scale, and
  • formation of collective identity.

(Zemsky and Mann, “Building Organizations in a Movement Moment,” Social Policy: Organizing for Social and Economic Justice, vol. 28, no. 3, 2008).

It’s the collective nature, the networking, which really fascinates me.  It’s about different groups of people working together.  Could it ever be about different groups of churches and ministries and other organizations working together on behalf of the salvation of the world?

According to these studies, we would need to look for the following characteristics in movement networks:

  • They are multi-organizational, therefore diverse, with all partners desiring to reach shared and mutually beneficial goals.
  • Trust and accountability are achieved through personal relationships, not through creating a single organizational hierarchy.
  • Partners agree on how to communicate and what constitutes progress toward goals.
  • Shared resources from all partners are committed for reaching the shared goals.

Well, this just sounds like a lot of academic ivory tower language unless we could turn it into something concrete.  Here’s my attempt at extrapolating some concrete ideas out of this:

  1. In October 2014, the Global Missions Conference is being held in Memphis for churches of Christ.  What could happen if this conference were the launching point for a fellowship wide conversation on how to go to all the world?
  2. What if there were regional meetings for every American church that cares about missions, every ministry like LST, Great Cities, MRN, and as many foreign Christian church leaders as possible, along with foundations, trusts, and others with resources, and all those wanting to do missions were sitting in the same room talking about what it would take to go to all the world?
  3. What if even some of these found each other to be ready and willing partners and began collaborating?

Please note, I’m not talking about creating a super-organization or any kind of hierarchy of either talent or resources.  But I am suggesting that we ought to be searching for like-minded partners rather than all of us trying to do it alone.

  • Do you think any of us could ever agree on mutually beneficial goals for these partnerships?
  • Do you think we could ever trust each other and be accountable to each other without having to decide who is in control?
  • Do you think we could share resources? Or the holy grail: donor lists?

Is there really only one question keeping us from fulfilling the Great Commission?  Is the only question one of whether we can love each other enough to work with each other?  Whether we can subordinate our own congregational/institutional egos enough to give God all the glory?

Well, I’m willing to talk about it with you—if you will talk about it with me!  Can we just start there?

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20131122_174550I wrote last week about the wonderful experience we had with our granddaughter Anna the last week we were in Europe for LST. Again, taking your grandkids with you when you do mission work is truly a formative memory for them. You can leave them no greater legacy than to show them what faithfully doing God’s work can be.

But there are some tips I can give you for making your trip more rewarding for both you and your grandchildren.  Let me just say that Sherrylee and I took our three children with us every summer of their lives until they were college-aged, we have sent many other families with children through LST, and now we have begun taking grandkids with us, so we have lots of experience to share with you.

Tip #1            –           Make sure they are old enough.  If they are your own children, you can take them at every age, but for grandkids, they need to be able to function for an extended time away from their parents. In my experience, 11 or 12-years-old is about as early as you want to start. In fact you have a window between 11 and 14 when it is probably ideal.

  • They may need to be old enough to fly by themselves.  Our two granddaughters both flew individually as unaccompanied minors across the Atlantic by themselves. Of course, a flight attendant always escorts them on and off the plane, but they still had to negotiate the nine-hour flight on their own.
  • At this age, they should be able to entertain themselves (reading, listening to music, video games, etc) when you are busy, but they can also visit with and relate to adults—especially at meals.
  • They also are old enough to try new foods—more or less—and when they don’t like what is served, they don’t make a big fuss, but wait until later to catch up.
  • They are old enough to understand and manage their own jetlag.
  • They are old enough to want to make their own memories, by taking pictures, keeping a journal, or collecting postcards.
  • They are old enough to carry their own luggage and keep up with their own things. (If you teach them to travel light, this shouldn’t be a problem.)

Tip #2            –           Make your plans early enough

  • Their Mom and Dad need to be fully on board with the plans, of course.
  • Determine early on who is going to pay for what.  With ours, the parents paid for the flights and the extra site-seeing costs. We provided ground transportation, lodging, and most meals. Since the kids slept in the room with us, that was rarely an extra expense. Since we almost always rent a car and drive ourselves, that too was no extra expense.  And until they are teens, they really don’t eat that much either.

Tip #3            –           Make sure everybody knows and understands that it is a mission trip             and that the work comes first! 

  • For our gkids, that means that they travel on our itinerary to places we must go and they see the people that we need to see. Our time with them is not built around showing them Europe.

Tip #4 –          Of course you try to squeeze into the schedule something especially                           interesting for the gkids.

  • For our first foray with a grandkid, we spent an hour in Ghent, walking the pedestrian zone before our meeting with the missionaries. Then we stopped at the Heidelberg castle for a walk on the grounds, not even a tour, on our way to the airport in Frankfurt the day before we flew back. The next year with her we planned one day out of eight for an outing in Paris.
  • This year we planned one day out of nine for sightseeing, so we drove to Amsterdam and saw Anne Frank’s house and museum and then went to Zaanse Schans (about 30 minutes further down the road) to a chocolate museum and an open air dutch village full of working windmills. The one other touristy thing we did with her was the Night watchman tour one afternoon in Rothenburg, where we were attending the Euro-American conference for three days.
  • You can sometimes get free layovers in London or other great sight-seeing places either going or coming home. We did that this year, which gave us half a day and an evening in London. We just saw the London Tower and Phantom—but she loved it.
  • Of course these were all fun and special for them, but I hope you can see that we made a balanced effort to do something special for the kids, while not really taking anything away from the work we were there to do.

Tip #5 –          Don’t be afraid to go one on one with your grandkid!

  • We are tempted sometimes to take two at a time, or to let them invite a friend—but I’d suggest you resist that and just take one!  Each one will have their own story then, and you will know that you have made an impact on that one child’s life.  If they are alone with you, then your experiences together will be yours. If they have another friend with them, you will lose many of those special moments you might have had.

Tip #6 –        Give them something meaningful to do!

  • Regardless of the kind of mission trip you are doing, find something meaningful that your grandchild can do. On LST projects, they often read the Gospel with other children. Or they entertain smaller children while the parents read. On our trip this year, we attended a missions conference, so Anna not only participated in the youth program, but she helped work with the younger children.  Meaningful is the key word here.  Even children know when they are just being given busy work or when they are just accessories.

Tip #7 –          Help them remember!

  • With our oldest grandchild, we talked a lot of history as we drove. We told her all about the Reformation and World War II.  Since we’ve returned, we’ve “reminded” her of some of those conversations, even occasionally giving her a little something to remind her of something we talked about.  Just keeping memories alive.
  • With our next grandchild that we took this year, our experience was completely different in that while we drove around, we played “Who Came First” with Bible characters, and we sang and sang and sang.  I’m thinking about making her a Playlist of “Songs We Sang in Germany” or something like that to help her remember.
  • In addition, for both of them, we have given them a photobook with our pictures of them and their activities with us—all the good times!  I’m pretty convinced that most of our childhood memories are directly from pictures that we have seen over and over again.  These photobooks are a very inexpensive way of capturing those memories and giving them to our grandkids in a more permanent and accessible medium than anything digital.

Just do it!  If you put God first, and just enjoy the grandkids, it will be a great experience for both of you!

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20131124_155115Sherrylee and I have just finished spending most of the month of November in Europe, visiting mission sites and talking to some of the most committed Christian people in the world about how to accomplish more for His Kingdom and how to talk to more people about Jesus.

I was able to stop and write a couple of posts during this trip (“Writing An Alternate Religious History for Spain” and “Cathedrals or Storefronts—Does It Matter In Europe?”), but for the most part, we were moving too quickly and too often to generalize our thinking into blog writing.  I apologize for that, but sometimes it is more important to do the work than to write about it.  I know you will understand.

So you don’t know, for instance, that our 11-year-old granddaughter Anna joined us for the last nine days of our trip in Europe. She flew all the way from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, changing planes at DFW by herself! What a girl!

For almost a year now, she has known that it was her turn!  Sherrylee and I have made a commitment to take one of our grandkids with us each year as they become old enough to travel with us.  Three years ago, we took our oldest grandchild Cassidy (also 11 at the time) and then took her again the next year when she was 12.  Kellan would have been the next because he is three weeks older than Anna, but his parents were already taking him to Germany, so he will be invited next year.

But this is not a “let-us-show-you-Europe” trip, oh no!  This is a Mimi and Grandad’s mission trip and the grandkids are invited to join us in the work we are doing. We tell them from the very beginning that we are visiting with missionaries and attending mission conferences; we are not going to Disneyworld in Paris.

On Tuesday morning at 8:30 am, we met Anna at the Frankfurt airport. The airlines are excellent about handling unaccompanied minors, so she was really never unattended during her 24 hours of travel!  The kids just have to be brave enough and independent enough to handle the emotional distance from their parents, not the physical distance.  And Anna was great!

By noon, we were in the car driving to the Netherlands to visit our friends Hans and Ans van Erp, who were the family who invited LST first to Eindhoven in 1987 to help them plant a new church there.  This church is now one of the strongest churches of Christ in Europe.

Anna was especially eager to meet Hans and Ans (yes, we all love it that their names rhyme!). She reportedly told her sister before she left, “I’m going to meet Hans and Ans van Erp. They knew Mommy when she was my age and now they are going to get to know me too! 

Within the first four days that she was with us, we had visited with the van Erps, then the Reinhardts in Wunstorf, Germany, as well as the Roehrkasses, Bratchers, and Smelsors in Hildesheim, Germany.  All of these visits involved long conversations about their local works and how LST was working or could work together with them.  Anna was there for all the conversations—of course.

On Saturday after her arrival, we drove five hours to Rothenburg ob der Taube, Germany, for the Euro-American Retreat.  This was the 50th anniversary of this retreat, which this year brought 230 people from all over Europe together for worship, prayer, Bible study, and lots of fellowship.

We were there a little early because I was speaking at the opening service. There was a children’s program, but Mimi went and got Anna because she wanted her to hear Grandad “preach.”  Well, it’s just one more little memory that may be meaningful to her in her own Christian life, knowing that she is from a family of preachers and teachers! I was glad she was there.

Over the next three days, Anna participated in worship, was part of the children’s classes, hung out with a few of the younger teens who were so kind to include the almost-teens, and she helped the small children prepare for their program on Tuesday night in front of the whole assembly.

Does that sound like a European vacation to you?  Does that sound like your grandkids dream trip?  Well, it could be if they know how much being with other Christians and encouraging them means to you!!

Of course, we planned some tourist things for Anna.  Of course!  We took one day and went to Anne Frank’s house and museum in Amsterdam, then drove a few minutes over to Zaanse Schans and toured a chocolate factory and working windmills.  It was a cold, blustery northern European November day, but she loved it.

And to cap off her experience, we planned a London layover on the way home, which gave us half a day there.  We drove by Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, but got to tour the Tower of London.  The real treat for her was attending a performance of Phantom of the Opera because Anna herself is very musically gifted.

Take your grandkids with you when you plan your next mission trip!! Sure, you have to make a few adjustments, but you will plant seeds in them that may change them forever. If you haven’t read Cassidy’s recent post about her view of missions, you should stop and read that now!

If we left no other legacy than to have given our children——a vision of what they can do with their lives for God in gratitude for what He has done for them, that would be so much more of an inheritance than anything else we could leave behind.

Take your grandchildren with you when you do His work!  Don’t make it all about them; make it about Him!  Let them see what your greatest love is!

That’s the motivational part of this post.  Next, I’ll come back and share some tips with you on how to take your grandkids on a mission trip with you successfully.

It’s good to talk again!

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You have to stop and read this! Cassidy is a young member of the Body of Christ, but her voice is already powerful and the Spirit of God is strong in her.  And she tells the truth.  She is special to us for many reasons, but let’s just all give thanks for her and for all the other teens who really love God with all their heart! Their devotion and commitment encourage our hope  for tomorrow.

20130621_171423Teenager. The word teenager makes some people nervous.  Loud, strange music. Weird clothes.  Completely different vocabulary.  Teenagers have the reputation of being concerned about clothes, popularity, dating, reputation and having fun. But if you’ve spent time with teenagers at The Hills lately, I think you’ll be surprised! And I mean surprised in a good way! Most of the students I know are concerned about the world—we want to make a difference. We care about friends, family, school, making the most of our lives and even missions. We want to stand out but not for our clothes or our music or even for what we say. We want to stand out because of what we do.  We want our lives to reflect Christ and we want to make Him look good. We aren’t afraid to do big things for God and we love being at a church that encourages us to dream big!

I was born into a family that loves the church and loves international mission work.  I’m 14 years old and I’ve been to 11 countries on 5 continents to share Jesus with people who don’t know Him. My parents and my 2 younger brothers and I went on a Let’s Start Talking project to Italy this past summer where we helped people practice English using the Bible—we went with 2 of our friends who also go to The Hills. Last summer I was on a team to Rwanda with several families from The Hills. God has definitely given me lots of adventurous ways to serve Him with our church family.  And each adventure has helped me grow closer to Him.

In July of 2011, I went on a 3 week LST project with my mom, my brothers and some family friends to Natal, Brazil.  Let me confess something…I was a brat.  I had just turned 12 years old and, honestly, I had not been very kind to my family for a while.  I don’t know why but I was just always frustrated with them and my brothers were really, really annoying to me all the time.  I left the USA dreading this non-stop time with my family. I don’t know exactly what happened to me on our mission trip but I came back changed.  I returned loving our time together and being grateful for my family. I had been baptized a couple of years earlier but the Holy Spirit was really working on my heart during those 3 weeks.

I had been on several mission trips before this one but this would be my very first time to read the Bible alone with people.  There I sat, 12 years old, across from 5 different non-Christians ranging in age from a 11-year-old Brazilian boy to a 52-year-old woman who was practicing Spiritism. I didn’t know it but my mom would sit across the room praying for me, reminding herself that the Spirit in me was stronger than anything in this woman.  Maybe that’s the beauty of being young and innocent—I wasn’t intimidated at all—only the usual nervousness of meeting someone new and sharing Jesus with them.  The Bible says that God can use the weak and overlooked of this world to show His wisdom and power (1 Corinthians 1).  Who would choose a 12-year-old bratty girl to share Jesus with a Spiritist over 4 times older? God, of course!

If you want to change your child or grandchild’s life, take them to do mission work.  You don’t even have to go to another country! There are people in this city who don’t know Jesus! There are people in your neighborhood who don’t have hope! And if you can take them to another country, go! There is something life-changing about spending every day for 3 weeks focused on the Good News of Jesus. It’s hard to be unkind to your family when you’ve read the story of Jesus with people all day.  It’s tough to be a brat after you’ve shared your faith with a stranger. And when you read about how great God’s love is, you want to love people even more.

Even little brothers.

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