Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fire by fire.

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
    Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
    To be redeemed from fire by fire.
Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
    We only live, only suspire
    Consumed by either fire or fire.

                                    -T.S. Eliot

Few poems have seized my attention with their beauty and terror as this one did. Admittedly, few poems have ever seized my attention, period. But ask my teammate Suzi, and she’ll tell you I went through a poetry phase while we were living in Ferké. I stumbled upon this excerpt by Eliot in the introduction to another book I was reading back in January, and have been coming back to it ever since. 

I am no scholar of poetry; I couldn’t analyze a poem if my life depended on it. Perhaps you will find something entirely different hidden in Eliot’s words. But each time I read over this passage, I am reminded that whether I like it or not, something in my life will be the lord over me. Someone or something in my life will be my consuming passion. And my choice is this: to die, or die to self. There is no easy way. 

The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre-
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

I’ve been trying to decide how to bring this blog to a close, and even as I punch away at the keyboard right now, I’m debating if this is the note I want to end on, but I can't get Eliot's poem off my mind. As I consider what it means to transition, from country to country, state to state, job to job, I would be quick to tell you that God has used these past two years to teach me what it means to live an intentional life for Christ in whatever circumstance he chooses to place me. But that intentionality, whatever my resolve, can only exist as a byproduct of a much deeper passion in my life.

On the grace-filled path that has led me to where I currently am, the Lord has burdened my heart many times with an unquenchable desire to serve him cross-culturally. After a short-term trip the summer after my freshman year at Corban, God clearly impressioned on my heart that there is no ‘quota’ when it comes to obedience. And after two years in Cote d’Ivoire, there is still no quota. God demands my all. And if He doesn’t have my all, then something else does.

The very first Sunday that I was in Sinématiali, as the last song ended for worship service, all the church members poured out of the building and gathered in the large, dusty courtyard. As others looked on, a woman set down a bag containing small pots, herbs, jewelry and other objects. I watched as it the objects were lit on a fire, and in my broken French, I inquired as to what was going on. I would come to understand that the woman had become a believer in Christ, and so was burning her idols and fetishes as a public symbol: she is no longer enslaved to the rituals and objects that she gave her life to before. Those items were consumed by the flames that she may be consumed by a passion for the Most High alone.
This may be an unusual example, but what it illustrates is just as applicable to my life in the United States as it is anywhere in the world.

We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

And I cannot believe that we are rescued from eternal separation from the Creator God of the universe to be complacent beings, wisps of smoke from extinguished fires. The grace of God is not a trinket. The glory of God is not to be trifled with. It should fill us up with the highest wonder and the deepest passion. 

And so that is where I want to finish. These past two years have been a time of growth, of learning, of tears and of happiness. But life is not static, and commitment to Christ cannot be contingent on circumstance. Wherever you are, wherever I am, may the rest of our lives be marked by an all-consuming passion to see our God glorified. There is a choice to be made: and surrender to the Lord requires everything. I am grateful and forever changed by the abiding trust in the Lord I have witnessed in the lives and stories of my Ivorian family, my teammates, and in your lives as well. And I have a long ways yet to go. But there is one other thing I've seen along the way. When our life is consumed with the pursuit of the Lord and seeing His Name made great, there we discover, life-giving and radiant: 


Saturday, July 11, 2015

So that...

Before I left US soil in 2013, my last blog post is evidence I had two things on my mind: autumn, and the journey ahead of me. Now it’s about two years later, and the odd thing is, those two things still seem to be on my mind.

Let’s deal with Autumn first. Every calendar I can find tells me that the current month is July, and that I still have to wade through August as well if I want to reach September, or even October. However, since I’ve been living in perpetual summer for many months, I crave the smells and feel of fall. This week has been an unseasonably rainy one, and so I pulled out a can of pumpkin for baking purposes, ordered spice tea at the tea shop yesterday, and am trying to get as much mileage out of my sweaters as one possibly can in the summer months.

The second thing is a bit more important, the same as two years ago: the journey ahead of me. In quiet moments I ruminate over the questions: Big picture, what were these last two years about? How do I even begin to live in light of what I learned? Where do I go from here? How do I make this next chapter of my life count for the kingdom, in obedience and in love? On and on and on.

And then, a short and simple phrase comes to mind, one that has been invisibly fueling the last two years:

So that…

In the context of where I first heard this phrase, there are three verses that round out this picture.

Genesis 12:2, the Lord says to Abram, “And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”

Psalm 67:1-2, the Psalmist prays, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us—so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all the nations.”

The apostle Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 9:2 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

These scriptures paint a picture of what happens when we choose to live a life that is inside out for the Lord: we recognize all that we have in Him, but understand that it is never just for our own sake. And we see every event, every opportunity through the lens of God’s glory.

One of the dearest things to me while living in Cote d’Ivoire was hearing the testimonies of men and women who freely share how the challenges or blessings in their life have been woven into a greater tapestry of grace, even against a backdrop of darkness and difficulty. One of the families I am closest to is that of the pastor in the village over from Sinématiali. I once asked him how he became a pastor, and he started his story with this (in his words):

Well, it wasn’t really me who chose to become a pastor. It was other people who encouraged me, but I never thought I would be a pastor. But there were things that happened in my life that made it clear that God was calling me. First, when I was young, the uncle of Marie (his wife) asked me to go bring something back from another village. So I went on my bike. On the way, I crossed a lake, and it was no problem. I got the thing and put it on the back of my bike. On the way back, crossing the lake, it started to rain, fort fort (very strong). The water trapped me and carried me away. I couldn’t swim. As I was being carried by the water, there was a small, small branch sticking out. Normally the type of branch where if you grab it, it will just break. But I grabbed the branch and pulled myself out of the water into the tree. Now the bike I had wasn’t my bike and it belonged to someone else. As I was climbing up the tree, I felt my foot touch something. It was the bike. So I crossed my feet together over the bike and climbed the tree with the bike. I knew then God had saved my life for something.

He went on to tell me about how he biked 160km to a youth camp that would change his life, and his time as a student pastor at the Bible Institute in Korhogo, each period marked by trust in the Lord. But this first part of his story sticks with me, an example of recognizing that in every aspect of our lives, the Lord is sovereign and he can purpose all things for His glory. Pastor said, “I knew then God had save my life for something.” That something today is a life that glorifies the Lord as he blesses others and shepherds a church in a small village in the north of Cote d’Ivoire.  

Sure, these are very different circumstances from my life, and probably yours. But, it reminds me to ask myself, can I say that God has put a challenge in my life, a blessing in my life, and given me the assurance, the love, and the salvation I have in Christ:

So that others are blessed,
So that others declare the praises of God,
So that all nations know His salvation.

Today I am not currently preparing to go to West Africa in the near future, neither am I in Cote d’Ivoire anymore. I am on the other side of the globe, but there is never a better time than the present to consider the “so that” of my life. A life lived inside out for Jesus doesn’t have to be in any one country, at any one time. It is a life of obedience. A life of joyful service for the King. A life lived so that God’s glory is made known. Admittedly, this isn’t easy, and I must return my gaze to Christ at every moment, acknowledging his grace and glory in the imperfection and brokenness of my life. But I am encouraged, and I am hopeful, and I so desire to live such a life. 
A life so that…

Saturday, June 20, 2015

To arrive where we started.

We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T.S. Eliot
I stumbled upon this little gem one afternoon in Ferké, and it has proved itself more meaningful with the months. Once upon a daydream, I found my feet standing on Ivorian soil for the very first time.  The newness overwhelmed, the possibilities glimmered. And when the day came to bid farewell, I looked on the same landscape with the warmth of familiarity. The people I call family, and the places I call home.

Well over a month has passed since I committed myself to sharing an update here. Each time I sit down to write, the words do not come. It’s not because the last weeks have been uneventful; quite the contrary. So very much has happened that I do not know what to say. That same sense of familiarity I felt as I left West Africa greeted me upon arriving where this journey once started, in the Pacific Northwest. 

The trip back to the US went well, by God’s grace. We were especially grateful for the time we had to stopover in Germany and visit our teammates there. Almost a year had gone by since we’d seen each other, and it was a great joy to catch up on life with them. As we left the land of Ivorian hospitality, I was so touched by the open hearts of our teammates as they and their families and friends welcomed us into their cities and homes for the week. Being able to share our experiences from our second year on-field with those who walked with us the first-year was precious. Not to mention, castles and coffee can do wonders for a weary-traveler.

Scenes from our Germany visit.

Perhaps there is nothing though to prepare one for reunion. Flying into Seattle, the pilot took the plane right by Mt. St. Helens in its snow-capped splendor. I could hardly be expected to stay still in my seat, as the great Northwest materialized before my eyes and the promise of seeing my family turned into reality. Here, the English dictionary is lacking in words that describe what it is to see your loved ones face-to-face after 2 years apart. 

Reunion in the Northwest.
These past seven weeks since arriving back in the states have been ones of great joy and great change for me. In quiet moments, memories sweep over me like sudden thunderstorms on the plains. Two months ago I was going to and from the hospital and translation office on my little moto, enjoying my routine of rice and sauce, spontaneous visits, and dancing to balafon music with my sisters. Since April, I have passed through 3 continents, 5 countries, and 5 U.S. states. Reverse culture shock still throws me at moments. Yet my heart has been renewed and strengthened by the opportunities to visit with many of you—my friends and family—something I had dearly missed.

And I am excited to share with you a new chapter, one here in the United States. For the moment, my journey has led me to Colorado. God knew there was a desire in my heart to continue somewhere missions-focused, and now I am honest-to-goodness thrilled to be a part of Journey Corps stateside. 

The CO life! Bottom left: the 2015 Journeyers!

Would you join me in praying for the new team of Journeyers who are preparing to depart this September? These are 9 young adults who are passionate about serving the Lord in Cȏte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and I am glad to join them for their journeys. They may not fully know it yet, but God has quite the adventure in store for them. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

To ask the road.

To ask for the road; it is the expression we use to say goodbye here, to ask permission to leave. The month of April found us going from city to village to town as we asked the road from our friends and family scattered throughout the north.

How 2 years went by so fast, I am not sure. Yesterday I was moving into a new home in Sinématiali, and all the sudden I was saying au revoir. As I sit writing on this cold, rainy night here in Mannheim, my head is foggy from the whirlwind of goodbyes and flights, but the faces of my friends and family rest imprinted in my mind and heart. So instead of words that seem inadequate for the moment, snapshots will do much better. Snapshots of goodbyes.


L t R; My parents and siblings, youth group gals, best friends. Faces of the ones who made me their family.
Greeting our Ferke church family one last time
Our Ferke family, pastor, and church leaders. They came to our
house to thank us and pray over us one more time.
Just a few of our hospital friends and coworkers who have brought us
so much joy and been so patient in teaching us
Last English club meeting
Our wonderful Journey Corps team, well the girls at least (en uniform).
The JC team in CI of leaders, culture and language teachers, mamas,
uncles, friends. This is one family I will deeply miss.

Our last day in the north also happened to be the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the AEBECI, our baptist church association. Nearly 7,000 people from all over the country came to Korhogo for the grand fete. They celebrated the days before with performances of traditional song and dance, culminating in a grand parade and ceremony. As we prepared to leave, it was a clear reminder of the Lord's provision and his hand in Cote d'Ivoire. All for the glory of his name! 
Performing a traditional Senoufo song
Grand Bassam
Our last night in Cote d'Ivoire with our dear friends,
leaders, and mama/papa Phil and Mimi
So much else I wish to say, to tell you about every precious moment of this past month. But for now, my heart has so much to process before the words will come.

We are in Germany for the moment, visiting our good friends/teammates from the first year (next post), and tomorrow we take our long-anticipated flight to the USA. Keep us in your prayers as we travel. See you on the other side of the ocean. Blessings.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Portrait of Community

On a Friday afternoon, Suzi and I stopped the moto in front of our friends’ courtyard and pushed open the swinging gate to be greeted by their puppy, pigeons, and sorrowful expressions. Just a few hours earlier, the family member of a hospital employee passed away very suddenly. The loss of a good friend, student, and brother reflected in the faces of those in the courtyard. By noon, the news has spread throughout town and now, at 14:30, we find ourselves meeting up with other youth to walk to the church the family attends. As is custom, we first go to greet the family at their home. Turning the corner to the back courtyard we see a large crowd of people already gathered: relatives who have arrived from other towns and villages, families and members from all the Ferké churches. Only a few hours after his passing and they are all here. The women sit in chairs near the entrance to the house, speaking in hushed tones or not all, some brushing tears from their eyes. Across the way, an even larger group of men sit together with the men of the family who have lost their son and brother. We take chairs too, among the women, and sit. We sit in silence, sit together—a gesture of our condolences towards the family in their sorrow.

After a while we leave the home and family to walk back to the church with the other young women. We pull out benches, a 50kg sack of rice, large bowls, and begin sifting through the rice together in groups of 3’s and 4’s. Others begin to show up with baskets of eggplant, cabbage, tomatoes, fish—all the ingredients to start cooking food for the funeral. The youth begin to think out loud—how they miss their friend, his love of Jesus, and of music. How they admired him for leading the musical group and starting a prayer time with the other youth. One woman takes up the refrain of a song they practiced together at church. Some of us did not know the young man personally, but we are there because our brothers and sisters in Christ knew him, because it affects them, and thus it affects us all. We all keenly feel his loss, and so we come together. We are all saddened, but there is comfort in community.

I don’t share this story to make you sorrowful, but because I think it is an illustration of the concept of community that exists here in Cote d’Ivoire. Within hours of the death of our friend’s brother, you see people gathering together to be with the family, to sit and pray with them. The members of the church are already taking care of the details of the funeral, of providing meals, of doing what they can to show their love and support of the family.

Although the threads of community are woven into other posts I’ve written, it is hard to explicitly share with you what it looks like, feels like on a daily basis. Perhaps it is just because our departure date is nearing, but I can’t seem to get my mind off of the graciousness of so many people in adopting me into their family and community. I’ll admit that too often I put priorities above people, instead of making people my priority. The part of me that loves to ‘accomplish,’ to write and then check-off my to-do lists, does not always find it easy to relinquish control. But here, you don’t say, “I don’t have time for you.” Work can start late, errands can be postponed.

Sometimes God reminds me of this by others who call it to my attention. “You didn’t greet me in the market yesterday!” To which I must honestly reply, “I’m sorry, I was too concentrated (a. on the road; b. on my thoughts; c. on not being hit by a moto or cow).” But mostly, the Lord has impressioned my heart by the way those around me manifest their care and concern. I think of my host parents, my uncles and aunts, who have taken the time to pray for me, instruct me, counsel me. I cherish the times I have had the opportunity to chat with the youth girls about life or to talk about the Bible with my brothers and sisters. I will miss the times where we all engage and care for each other in conversation, in prayer, and sometimes in understanding silence. And not forgetting the beautiful ensemble of friends and family back home (YOU!) whose outpour of love and encouragement has only increased these past two years.

Before I get too serious, living in community can be funny too. And it’s not just the people at church, or at work. There are so many others whose lives intersect with mine: our loud and crazy neighbors, the vendors on my street and at the market, the owners of the corner boutiques.

I walked to the corner boutique last week to buy units for my phone. I greet the owner and he asks, “How is your health? I heard you were sick.” I start, “How did you kno…nevermind.” It is a point to know each other’s business, by whatever means that may be.

The window in my room looks right out onto our neighbors’ small courtyard. It would be the equivalent of having a window that looked right into your neighbors’ kitchen and living room. We greet la vieille, I survey baby as she is learning to crawl, one of the kids reaches her hand through the window for a high-5. Nothing could be more normal.

The women who sell bread in the morning always keep track of how long it’s been since we’ve come by, and always want to know if we were traveling, and how we are. And so do the vendors in the market. We often zigzag from one side of the market to the other so we can shop at certain stalls. The woman we buy banane from stopped me the other day on the road to ask why we hadn’t been by lately, and to ask how I was. “Remember” she calls as we part ways, “to come buy banane from me soon! And greet your sister!”

There is something about this life here that pulls on my heartstrings, every time I greet a friend on the road or a tonton or tanti stops by our home to see how I am. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not always easy, it’s definitely not perfect. These little snapshots of life, serious or lighthearted, are but glimpses of this daily experience of living together. But when I remember how I arrived here not knowing one single person, I now see that God has poured into my life the love and kindheartedness of more people than I can count. And in doing so, he has taught me what community looks like.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Allez, allez, allez!

While World Cup fever took over the country last June, nothing could have prepared us for the CAN (Africa Cup) madness this past January/February. Our family followed each match, astonished as Côte d’Ivoire advanced all the way to the semi-finals and then finals. As Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire faced off in the finals Sunday the 11th, our family paced the living room, unable to sit still as we watched and willed our national football team, the Elephants, to win. "Allez, allez, allez!" At 90 minutes, 0-0. After 30 additional minutes, 0-0. After 5 penalty kicks, 3-3.

4-4                          5-5                          6-6                          7-7                          8-8

Then finally, 9-8.  Victoire Côte d’Ivoire!

Cheers broke out all over Ferké, a triumphant rumble rising up from all the quartiers. Everyone, and I mean everyone, ran from their courtyards, pouring out into the streets in orange, white, and green jerseys. An impromptu parade. The youth started marching from one end of town to the other, cheering, singing, doing flips. The gutsy got on their motorcycles and zoomed up and down the streets, standing on their seats as they drove or showing off other (albeit dangerous) tricks. While the energetic paraded, the rest of the town watched from the sides of the road, crying and jumping in victory.

Celebrating with the family and the town in the streets of Ferke.
The President declared Monday a national holiday which we spent celebrating and watching the live broadcast of the team’s reception back into the country, where the President met them on the tarmac. It’s almost a month later, and we are still watching clips of the winning goal (COPA!) on TV. Allez Les Eléphants!

Three days later and another sweet surprise. Our dry streak of 88 days was broken by the most wonderful, early morning rainstorm. That’s no record, but for this NW girl, it sure felt like one. When it rains at night, everyone and everything gets off to a slow start in the morning. The market was empty. We arrived late to work, clothes wet from driving our motos through the sludge. The rice field and little streams were brimming with brown, muddy water. I watched a small boy leading his two cows to drink in one of the streams, the water up to his knees. The road was worse for the wear, but the rain washed the dust off the trees and herbs, reminding us that our country is still green.
The neighbor kids came out to play, umbrella in hand, after the rains had stopped.
That weekend, we caught a bus up to Niélle to visit Crystal’s host family and help with their church’s first-ever Kids Camp. Over 110 kids showed up for the Friday to Monday event. Crystal was in charge of game time so her, Suzi, and I amused the kids and ourselves with multiple rounds of freeze tag, duck-duck-goose (reinterpreted as cat-cat-bird), sharks and minnows, and one intense game of Capture the Flag. It was a sweet time visiting the pastor’s family and our Niélle friends, and joining the kiddos in lessons, games, and dancing.
A round of cat-cat-bird
Reciting Bible verses during lesson time.

Sharks and minnows. Who wants to be the shark?
Bon Voyage has been the theme of the last month. After our Niélle trip, and a few days working in Ferké, I spent another weekend in Sinématiali. I was happy to see my family all doing well, visit a friend and her two newborn twins, and see one of my tantis moved into her new home which she has been working to build for many years now. The Saturday afternoon youth group that started back in January continues to grow as well. It has been one of my prayer requests that I’ve shared with you, that some sort of youth activity would start in the church there, so to see 40 youth coming from town and nearby villages to meet together is an encouraging sight. Continue to pray for the growth of this group, and that it would touch hearts and make disciples.

That same weekend, we had one more blessing from the Lord. Our cousin living with us in Ferké gave birth to a healthy baby boy! Junior, as we named him, is quite the charmer and has got all us aunties wrapped around his finger.

Now, in the month of March, we are in the last real month of ‘normal’ life here. April will see our team running around the country, packing, saying goodbyes, and heading home. So here in March we are content to savor our final weeks of working, of living in family, and enjoying the life we have come to love in our little corner of West Africa.

“I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:6)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It's the Little Things.

This post is dedicated to the little things, the small joys of life. I am finding that when our eyes look for the sweet, the funny, the simple, it is hard to maintain an attitude of discontent. I often pray that the Lord would open my eyes to the little things around me, that I would take joy in where he has placed me, not just in the work or the big moments, but in the moments that I so often let pass by without a thought. The following snapshots are just that; photos of life that I’ve snapped along the way. Here are a few of the funny, the sweet, and the simple moments from the past few months. Enjoy!

The mighty Dyna. Do you remember the time I told you about travelling with 12 goats on top of the car, or the time the disgruntled guinea fowl tried to eat my foot the whole ride home? Words don’t really do justice to our favorite form of public transport here. The dyna. When I was still living in Sinematiali but travelling to and From Ferke each week, this is the form of transport I was trying to describe. I think our team would agree, some of the best stories happen in dynas. Suggested number of passengers: 22. But there is always room for 26, plus a few kids, goats, and chickens.

Unfortunately, I don’t carry a camera often and so some of the best and funniest sights I may never get to show you. But here are a few more Dyna photos I managed to snap. First, when they talk about loading up the Dyna, they mean business. It’s a bit fuzzy, but you can see the enormous amount of luggage tied on to the top of this little car. Everything from vegetables, chickens in their coops, furniture; it all goes on top.

Or tomatoes. On market day, produce goes back and forth between Ferke and Korhogo, and it’s like an unspoken challenge to see how many sacks of piemont or how many crates of tomatoes can go on the roof.

Finally, I have yet to get a picture of a goat windsurfing on a car for you, but here is the next best thing. Look closely.

Spending the day in my favorite village. How many chickens can you spot?

Ferke is something of a truck stop en route to Mali. Overloaded camions with cotton, plantains, and all sorts of other goods come rolling past, often parking off the road for the night. The whole town was in a commotion when these two boats happened to roll into town. As one of my friends said, “Ferké isn’t exactly the water capital of the world,” so everyone slowed down their motos and cars as they went by to gawk at these strange water vessels. Our little sister, who has never seen a boat like this, took the moto across town at 9pm at night to go see for herself.

The road to Sinematiali.

Speaking of overloaded cars, it’s the season for cotton here, and I can hardly believe some of the camions passing by, cotton piled up like a mountain before you.


Viens manger! Now this is party food. Foutou, sauce gren, and chicken. Foutou has the texture of stickier, starchy playdough, with a taste slightly reminiscent of potato, and is best eaten with sauce gren or sauce arachide (peanut). Ok, appealing description, I know. But really, try it, you'll like it.

While my work involves a lot of computer work, sorting through the Nyarafolo lexicon, sometimes my assignment is drawing. We’ve been working on making the Nyarafolo calendars through 2017, creating sketches to go with each proverb. Here are a few samples:

À soli ‘káa muɔ siʔi nī pìlige nī wi ‘muɔ kpúʔɔ wī. (If the elephant ate in your field at night, he has honored you.)

Sàndiɛn wi nyɛ́ni wi nyɔ́nigimɔ líi bè pìire nī. (The leopard has his spot from birth.)


   The beauty of this place.

This one is a shout out to my wonderful parents, and the box of love they sent out here. Gifts for my host family, a Beth Moore Bible study, and sweet reminders of the great PNW.

Laundry day 101: Grab the washboard, a couple of buckets, and a very inspirational playlist. When you are all done, step back and admire your clean clothes sun-drying on the line.

In a few places in Ferke right off the main road, you can find little streams that cross that, although may be dumping grounds for garbage, also contain little fish. If you pass at the right time of day, you might see little boys who have fashioned fishing rods out of sticks, grass, or string, trying their luck at fishing. This picture is fuzzy, but if you look closely you will see this little boy has strung his catch of three little fish on one piece of grass to carry home. It’s the little things.

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