Still Waters Amidst the Chaos

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates

 Grieving at any point in life is difficult. Only someone who has gone through it can accurately describe it. It’s like wading through a dark, swampy forest, longing for the sun to rise and burn off the thick fog you’re trying to escape from. You don’t know where the sun will rise but hope its different from any other time before. The memories comfort yet suffocate you. Searching for relief, you’re exhausted.

Recently, my grandfather passed away 3 weeks after he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. The circumstances came and went like an unforeseen tragedy, leaving us drowning in the wake.

He was the first grandparent and father lost – just two weeks away from Thanksgiving. Not one person felt normal or complete. The season’s joyous spirit felt superficial at a time like this. Some eventually accepted this as the new reality and busied themselves, absorbing others’ Christmas cheer and attempting to pass it on. The rest were left seeking whatever could be found to keep the reality settling in their heart.

God urges and reminds us our choices (no matter how seemingly small) have a lasting impact on our future. What are you running to for fulfillment? What substance(s) are you using to drown your sorrows?

“I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly.. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.” Ecclesiastes‬ ‭2:1, 3, 10-15 ‭ESV‬‬

If it had not been for the prayer warriors hedging me in during my season of grieving or the friends that simply took the time to listen and invest in my heart; I would not be writing this. I too, sought outside fulfillment in my brief period of grief/denial.

Everyone grieves differently. Ecclesiastes 3 encourages us there is a time for everything. Weeping, praising, searching, mending, and stillness.

Many in this generation have become fixated on social media, often causing them to entertain the meaningless. Through some’s time of grief they may bury themselves in other’s lives, longing for their friends’ highlight reels midst their dark hour. Others are left pining for the love they lost, seeking from those not worthy to capture their heart. Both of these circumstances point to a haughty heart: one too proud to submit to Christ in their moment of weakness, fear, and hurt.

“Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭7:31‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“You cannot drink from the cup of the Lord and from the cup of demons, too. What? Do we dare to rouse the Lord’s jealousy? Do you think we are stronger than he is? You say, “I am allowed to do anything” —but not everything is good for you. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is beneficial.” ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭10:21-23‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In every season, there are times to feel weak, angry, and sad, but in that storm Christ calls us to say: “Through it all, you are still good.” This is easier said then done. How do we focus on the still water when ensued by chaos?

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How I Lost 30lbs Accidentally: Lifestyle Choices

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates

Once I moved from overseas to America, I hit the gym as soon as I recovered from jet lag. My Mom became my personal trainer and I pushed through the frustration of re-gaining ground I had lost. 

When I set foot in Chicago on my own, I had no car and walked over a mile a day. Running up flights of stairs every day to catch a train took its own toll.  I made the resolution when I moved out on my own not to have junk food in the house because I saw the weakness I had towards mindlessly eating. Eating out was a rarity since my budget didn’t allow it and I purposefully chose low-in-fat recipes.

I accidentally lost weight by setting standards for myself. I didn’t intentionally workout and kept eating out to a minimum. It’s not a magic pill, it wasn’t easy, but it made ground that I was able to continue going harder after weight loss and the fit image I had for myself.

I am in control of what I put in my body. Choosing healthy foods to consume rather than eating out every week is a choice. I don’t eat organic but I always eat a home-cooked meal. Packing my lunches also keeps me from over-eating or over-indulging. It’s about the small steps. Working out keeps my body fit but eating well keeps me healthy.

  Once I discovered how much weight I was losing, I reconfigured my budget and joined a gym. During my consultation the physical trainer gave me the most haunting advice that I will never forget. “The fat on your body is from unhealthy, processed food you’ve consumed.” You know what that told me? I am responsible for what I put in my body. I am not controlled by what I eat. Or how I look. Or how I feel. Once the weather warmed up, I began to ride my bike to work, a 12 mile trek. That was hard at first but it soon became something I craved! Weight training at the gym continues to build the muscle I need and the cardio I do during the day provides the necessary exercise.

Waking early in the morning ensures I work out and making it a priority has been a huge lesson in discipline for me! I don’t work out to fit a size; I work out to stay fit and healthy. 

In my first post in this series I talked about how my mom was my inspiration to start losing weight. I had thoughts of insecurity and was upset about how my mom was going to be smaller than me. There is nothing wrong with that. The thought was a subconscious revelation of the jealousy I felt at how happy I saw my mom had become. She was no longer controlled by her desire for food, or to be skinny! She was simply living healthy and working towards being fit.

Going through photos of myself and discovering my journey through pictures was hard. We all love the before and afters but what about the durings? Seeing my low valleys and high mountain tops saddened me a little. It was hard to see and remember how I had felt: so uncomfortable in my own skin because I had already seen my potential. I didn’t understand why it was so difficult to lose weight and accounted it to not being able to go to the gym.

If you’re just starting this journey or my story has inspired you to live a healthier lifestyle, take baby steps and stay firm.  Allow cheat days and if you’re not ready to go it alone, bring a friend! Most gyms allow guest passes and LA Fitness gives ten of your friends a two week membership at the gym for free! Don’t get discouraged and keep an accountability partner to kick your butt in gear when you fall a little off track. 

“I know Jesus died, but why?”

Missions

I held a salvation card with a woman’s phone number but no house number. After calling her many times, learning she has a different name than the one noted, and finally finding her shack I was relieved to see someone at home that I could have a conversation with!

I started to talk to her and I learn she is in a completely different profile than I thought. I don’t know how to relate to her and begin to hesitantly share the gospel, praying God will show me an open door. All I was confident in was that God was telling me to push through this rough conversation.

After talking about her family back home I begin to ask what she knows of God. She explains she knows Jesus died for her. I ask, “Do you know why he died?” She shakes her head no.

I began to share the creation story of how Adam and Eve sinned and that’s why God sent His son. She nodded her head and understood. I brought out a Gospel of John and gave one to her. I opened it to John 4 (one of my favorite stories to share). Up until this point I had needed a translator to explain what I was saying but as I told the story she completely understood English – The Gospel Came Alive!

I continued to tell her about how Jesus (a single man from a different tribe) sat down with this single woman from a disliked tribe. He wanted to talk to her and offer her something so special, even though he knew all of the bad things she had done. He didn’t care about the bad things, he still loved her. Porciah was shocked at how much Jesus loved this woman and as I told her how much he loved her, her eyes grew even wider.

As I asked if she wanted to know Jesus more, she grew hesitant. “Give everything to someone I barely know?” I understood where she was thinking because I had thought the same thing just a year and a half ago. I reassured her she could learn more about Jesus in the book of John I gave her, told her where our Bible study was in her area, prayed for her, and left.

God has a plan for Porciah and so many other people in the communities we work in. I am so grateful that I listened to what God was telling me and she now knows why Jesus died for her and that it is not about what she does for him or the bad things she’s done in the past, because all He wants is her.

Testimonies From George, South Africa!

Challenge & Revelation, Missions, Photography

Victoria Bay

Sedgefield Community

Photo Credit: Cori Bridgeford

Knysna, South Africa is a beautiful place and I’m privileged to have traveled there. While it has many accommodations much more like America’s it still has squatter camps. These were not just any type of squatter camps. Shacks built on hills overlooking the grand homes closer to the beach, the mist of the ocean waves visible from their very front door. In the three and a half months I’ve been doing ministry in squatter camps I had never seen a community so desperate for God. The very first house we visited that week, God did a miracle. We met three women, sitting outside the door and we told them about the crusade. When we asked if we could pray for them, they led us to their mother who couldn’t walk. A frail old woman, named Sarah, lay curled up in her bed, muttering a few words to her daughter which she would translate to us. It had been thirteen years since she had walked. Sarah was in a lot of pain and had many medications trying to take it away. “I believe in Jesus.” She told us, “I believe He can heal me.” Excitedly we prayed for her, expecting the God of the Impossible to do a great miracle.

When we finished praying we asked if she felt any different and she said some of the pain was gone. She walked from her bedroom to the sitting area – a walk she had not made in 7 years! Two days later we stopped by again and were able to get to know the daughter, Sophie, better. She told us of how she took care of her mother Sarah and her son who was deaf and had a type of autism. With no job, she trusted the Lord for everything she had. Selflessly laying down her own needs for those of others, the stress on her face was evident. We began to pour into her the strength the Lord has for her, sharing scripture after scripture, her countenance had changed from burdened to joyful by the time we left!

The last night I saw Sophie at the crusade with a little girl who had been with us since the crusade had started earlier that week. We all knew her well, seeing her and playing with her so often. “This one is a soup-kitchen child.” Sophie told me, “I gave her a piece of bread.. I have my own problems!” While this woman had compassion she seemed quite irritated, still holding the little girl. When I asked where her parents were she responded saying the father was dead and the mother had disappeared. “Is she staying with you?” I asked. “No!” “Where does she stay then?” I asked. Sophie continued to talk about the soup kitchen and all I could think about was how this four year old girl had no family and was apparently getting food from the soup kitchens.

There are children who have no homes. Who don’t know where their family is or where their next meal is going to come from. This trip not only made me grow into the faith God gave me for his healing but opened my eyes to see the deeper reality that these people live in every day. Please be praying for the seeds sown in our times of ministry and that the Lord would continue  to work on their hearts!

DSC08747_

He Brings Hope to the Hopeless

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates, Missions

On a windy, cloudy day in Kya Sands, most people are huddled around fires or in their shacks staying warm. Our team walks in between the alley ways looking for an open shack or anyone for that matter. As we stand in front of a shack, looking to see if anyone is there, we notice they are all locked. While we discuss where we should go next, a woman approaches and greets us. She introduces herself as Marciah and we learn more of her life. Her four daughters are back at home; oldest is 16 and part of a Muslim church. She shares her disappointment and prayers for her daughter. We relate life with her, me sharing of my two younger sisters and family in America, the difficulty of being away. “But I call my mom and I feel better.” Marciah, the thirty-eight year old woman, tells me.

I ask if she lives with her family and she tells me she lives by herself. I was a little surprised because very rarely will you find a woman in a squatter camp living on her own. If she’s not living with a sister or mother, she usually lives with a boyfriend or husband. “My boyfriend died on October 26 last year.” She solemnly states. Once again, my heart is pulled for this woman. So many times you’ll hear of difficult situations occurring in a squatter camp, of death and sickness, unthinkable realities hit you like a tidal wave. These situations, as terrible as they are, have become the norm in hopeless desperation to cope.

She tells of visiting her children for holiday and the joy of being able to spend time with her little ones. We learn of the church she attends and she shares even more about her life. She invites us inside her house, unlocking the door and motioning for us to come closer. She shows us the places her families once lived before they moved back home, leaving her by herself. I ask Marcia if she likes to be by herself or with others. She tells me she likes to be with others but it is difficult because her neighbors come home late, through the emphasis in her eyes I can see the loneliness. As if a wall had come down, she opened up and spoke softly of her deceased boyfriend. “He committed suicide here.” She tells me. Rather than tugging at my heart, it broke right in two hearing this. “I am so sorry, Maricah.” I try to console her in the best way I know, sympathy and a listening ear. She continued, “He hung himself. He didn’t even leave a note.” Trying to still wrap my head about the pain she must be feeling I ask another question. “You found him hanging?”

“We came home and he had locked it from the inside,” she said. “I knocked and knocked but no one would answer the door. We had to break part of the door and crawl through.” As she told the story, I mentally walked through the process, experiencing the stress and exhaustion after a long day’s work, not being able to enter the only place that could be labeled your oasis, crawling through the door to find someone so close to you, had killed themselves. “I couldn’t sleep or stay here.” She tells us. “All I could picture was that was where he died. I would think I saw him when I woke up at night. So many people told me to get counseling. But I told them I could counsel myself.” Marciah continued to tell of getting counseling and how she was okay now. I could still see the oppression over her life, the heaviness that burdened her whether she knew it or not. I began to relate to her, through circumstances I had gone through with friends. I told her of how I felt when I found out the people I was close to told me of how close they had come to suicide and the questions I asked myself. “How could I have noticed? Why was I not there for them?” She agreed with me and I asked if she had a bible.

She took her Bible out, excited to show me. I see her bookmark is in Psalms and I ask if she likes the book. “I must be honest; I did not read my Bible while I was on holiday.” She admits to me. I nod my head and tell her of my new found love for Psalms. As I flip to show her where I have been reading, I read her 55:1-8,9b,11b,16 and ending with v22 “Give your burdens to the Lord and He will take care of you.

She soaked it all in. She agreed to start attending our bible studies and is so excited to be able to see people and talk to them about God! I am so excited to journey with Marcia. Please be praying with me for healing, peace, and deliverance in her life.

Recently, I’ve had to rely on the Lord for his provision. I am still fundraising while in South Africa to fully fund the year. Trusting in His timing is not easy, especially when deadlines fly by as you’re out in the shacks and in the office, day by day. Just as I encouraged Marciah with Psalms, it has been encouraging me especially in this season of life.

 “But the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. (v20-22) We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name..Lord, our hope is in you alone.”

Psalm 33:18

If you would like to donate follow this link. The donation information is towards the bottom of the page. Thank you for your prayers and partnership in reaching those who are hopeless and broken in South Africa!

The Sweetest Birthday Gift

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates, Missions, Photography

I wake up to my favorite girls surrounding me, singing happy birthday with a plate of eggs, cinnamon pull apart bread, along with coffee made just the way I like it. I spent an hour in the Word and dressed for the day, doing my hair and make-up all in enough time to be out the door at 8:30. It was the last day of Holiday Kid’s Club (VBS) at Impact Kids and I helped run it with a few of the other interns. I was exhausted by lunch and the day wasn’t even half over! Rich and Michelle Franzen (founders of Impact Africa) surprised me with a triple chocolate mini-cake and all the kids sang happy birthday to me, I felt so special.

But that wasn’t all God had planned for my birthday.

That afternoon we visited a children’s hospital. What I saw was gut wrenching, jaw dropping, and tear spurring.

Row after row of cribs resembling cages full of children connected to oxygen tubes, many with stitches on their head and broken legs. While in America we would elevate your leg, South Africa is drastically different. With the kids here a bracket is screwed into each child’s knee to keep it elevated, restraining them from most movements a child would want to make. The extra crib piece on top holds the leg elevated but restrains from a parent reaching to hug their child, only a hand can be held. As we gave them simple toys and gifts their entire face lit up like Christmas morning for many of your children (or sometimes how you feel yourselves.)

Children's Hospital

These photos barely scratch the surface of how I felt that day. I hope they move you as much as they moved me to take them.

My favorite part of the day, though, was meeting a little boy whose name is so long and mispronounceable I will simply name him Samuel. This little boy looked at me with the biggest droopiest brown eyes, moaning as he breathed. I stuck my hand through the crib and rather than grabbing my finger, he clutched onto my arm. I couldn’t leave this little one, this was the reason I was here. I approached a nurse and asked her if I could hold him, she quickly replied, “Of course!” I turned around and picked this little boy up, his eyes lit with hope. I held him close to me and his arms wrapped around mine, I’d never felt a clutch so strong from someone so young before. He reached up and stroked my neck and his eyes began to droop. How long had it been since this little one had been held? Before we left I fed him, the other nurses tried unsuccessfully and nodded for me to try. I picked up the spoon, scooped up the food just the same as them and Samuel opened his mouth, willing to receive from a loving hand. Having the opportunity to pray over Samuel’s life and speak into it was the best birthday present I could ever have received. I know that this little one’s life was changed, but so was mine.

The Refining Flame

Challenge & Revelation

After so quickly finishing the book of Hosea I read the next book, Joel, just as hungrily. My soul cried out as I read the words on the page.

1:19 “The fire has consumed the wilderness pastures and the flames have burned up our trees!”

He is our only source! He took the nothing I had and burned it, only to replace with something better. No other place of rest is better than His.

2:3 “Fire burns in front of them and flames follow after them.”

Burn away all my impurities, Lord.

“Ahead of them the land lies as beautiful as the Garden of Eden.”

He takes us away for a purpose, only to lead us to something better.

2:4b “They charge forward like warhorses.”

Ready for warfare, fasting is a time of intercession; in our physical weakness he makes us spiritually strong.

2:12b-13 “Give me your hearts. Come with fasting…Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead. Return to the Lord your God. For He is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.”

He wants your heart, longs to know your every desire. Don’t always deal with things outwardly, look at where God has been working on you. He does not want to hurt us or be an evil father! All he wants to do is talk to you!

2:19,26 “Look! I am sending you…enough to satisfy your needs. Once again you will have all the food you want, and you will praise the Lord your God, who does these miracles for you.

Every day I’ve been hungry and He fills me with His words and with His grace. When I’m physically hungry He fills me as well. It really is a miracle!

Hosea has become my favorite book in the Bible (up to date). The restoration and love He pours out on Israel, even after deserting Him, is inspiring.

The Lord has shown me so much and I wish I could share even more but with the whirlwind of a surprise trip to Botswana its taking me a little longer to show you all God has been showing me. Next time I have internet I’ll be sure to tell you all about Botswana and the amazing time we had over there!

Lots of Love,

Ashley

Strong in the Father

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates

Getting ready to start a juice fast with some of the girls this week and I’ve been diligently seeking the Lord on His will for this. He spoke to me and showed me nothing like I’ve seen before, just as He always does.

Daniel 9:3 “I turned to the Lord in fasting and in prayer..{20-25} As I was praying, Gabrielle…came swiftly to me. “Daniel, I have come to give you insight and understanding. The moment you began praying, a command was given, and now I am here to tell you what it was for you are very precious to God. {10:11-12,17,19} You are very precious to God. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your god, your request has been heard in heaven. “How can someone like your servant talk to you, my Lord? My strength is gone and I can barely breathe.” Then the one who looked like a man touched me again, and I felt my strength returning. “Don’t be afraid,” He said, “For you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!” As he spoke those words to me I suddenly felt very strong.”

Daniel knew his city was in danger of being destroyed and so he began to seriously intercede on their behalf. Fasting is a time of intercession and instead of ignoring his call, Daniel stepped up to the plate. God stepped behind his action and worked through his faith. The words Gabrielle gave to Daniel continually repeating how precious He was to God is so inspiring. What a reminder that every time we pray the Lord hears as well! “Your request has been heard in heaven.” God doesn’t ignore us, He listens to our words, takes note of every thought.

This passage encouraged me so much in my decision to take part in my first week long fast. The times I’ve spent with the Lord so far have been so uplifting but I kept feeling a wall. There was something more. When one of the girls approached me telling me she was taking a week to fast and asking me to join, I knew this was what the Lord was telling me to do. After reading in Daniel the next day, it was set in stone. God can move in anyone. Fasting is not the only way to hear God better. For this season I feel this is what He has for me. Taking this time before we have a lot of teams come in and seeking Him on how to more effectively minister, its a time to set myself apart. I am very precious to God. He hears what I say and in my request, He sent an answer. “Don’t be afraid,” He said, “For you are very precious to God. Peace! Be encouraged! Be strong!” As he spoke those words to me I suddenly felt very strong.” He gives me the strength. Not just while I’m on the fast, but every day. He’s going to take care of me, all the time. 

SA sunset

Love the sunsets God designs for me 🙂

Jeremiah 9:12 “…Why has the land been so ruined that no one dares to travel through it?”

Challenge & Revelation, Life updates, Missions

Hi partners, family, and friends! Hope you are all doing well and God is moving in your lives!

This past week has been the last bit of training sessions, and we finished the week off with a trip to Diepsloot and Kya Sands for kids ministry! It was an awesome time of loving on kids and teaching them about their wonderful Creator. Earlier that week we also went on a trip to Soweto where Nelson Mandela grew up as well as Reverend Desmond Tutu. We learned a lot about the uprising that influenced the end of apartheid and visited many historical spots. It was mindboggling to think it was only 25 years ago when everything changed. Nelson Mandela is still alive today. Most of the time in America, monuments are not resurrected until the death of someone who did something. It did open my eyes that the violence, drinking, and drug addiction that is prevalent here, is not the only idol.

As I was seeking the Lord on verses to pray over the nation, He opened my eyes to so many other things and I would love to share them with you!

{Just as a preface: Monday we went out into the squatter camps to share the gospel with the people who live in the shacks, for many of the interns first time. I was so excited to read these verses that I pray they opened eyes to see all the Lord has promised them and the lies that have been told – and see the real truth!!}

Malachi 3:2

“But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes.”

One of the ways we relate to the people is while they’re doing laundry. So commonly you can strike a conversation up with a woman cleaning laundry, learn more about her and her family and begin to make connections. One of the ways you can bring the Lord into the conversation is by contrasting how the soap that cleans the laundry is just like how God cleans our hearts. This verse is so true – no one can endure till the rapture occurs and certainly face God with a clear conscience.

V13-15

“You have said terrible things about me”, says the Lord. But you say, “What do you mean? What have we said against you?” You have said, “What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord of Heaven’s Armies that we are sorry for our sins? From now on we will call the arrogant blessed. For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them suffer no harm.”

Many of the African people seek a tangible God. They want something to show up right now, they want to hear, see, and hold God. So many cult churches offer a tangible power, but it’s not the truth. I have encountered people who question Christians and the church. “Some men create churches just for the tithes and offerings, preach and drive from church to church all day Sunday, and collect tithes and offerings for themselves.” We have learned from the Africans and many are upset by that. “Does God allow that? And if so, why? Wouldn’t it just be better to do our own thing than sacrifice our hard earned money for something fake?”

This is where I find my answer:

Deuteronomy 7:5b-6

“…You must break down their pagan altars..burn their idols. For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on the earth; The Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure!”

His own special treasure…wow. I am called to tear down those strongholds that hold the people of God back from Him.

For that reason I find this scripture so special:

Jeremiah 9:12

“Who is wise enough to understand all this? Who has been instructed by the Lord and can explain it to others? Why has the land been so ruined that no one dares to travel through it?”

Psalm 49:6-9

“Let the praises of Go be int heir mouths and a sharo sword in their hands. To execute vengeance on the nations,.bind their legs with shackles…this is the glorious priviledge of his faithful ones.”

Psalm 21:6

“You will capture all your enemies. Your strong right hand will seize all who hate you…”Although they plot against you, their evil schemes will never 12 For they will turn and run when they see your arrows aimed at them.”

What a verse of edification! {encouragement, declaration} I just felt God pouring into me that nothing was impossible through Him. He can do anything through me – I am a vessel in His hands. While the enemy may try to attack me with physical, emotional, and mental pain or scramble my WiFi so that I am unable to communicate with my family for a week, he can’t knock me down because God is my comforter. God’s word and blessing on my life gives me power to resist the enemy in all of his attacks – be it having communication problems with my roommate or a discouraging day on the mission field. Being a missionary is not just when I am out in the shacks talking to people – I am just as much, if not more, of a missionary in my own home.

The Palmer Family

Photography

I had a great time taking the Palmer’s family pictures, so glad we were able to incorporate the fall colors! They arrived color coordinated and flashing their pearly whites. Mrs. Palmer even had some fun ideas (love when that happens!) to incorporate and we had a great time. Thanks for letting me take your family pictures, here are my favorites from our shoot!

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