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The Dangers of Reading the Bible in a Year January 3, 2022

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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At the start of 2022 there are many apps, podcasts and reading plans to help you read the Bible in a year. One popular plan from Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne (or McCheyne) dates back to the mid 19th century and came with warnings of some specific dangers:

  1. Formality .– We are such weak creatures that any regularly returning duty is apt to degenerate into a lifeless form . The tendency of reading the Word by a fixed rule may, in some minds, be to create this skeleton religion. This is to be the peculiar sin of the last days— ” Having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. ” Guard against this. Let the calendar perish rather than this rust eat up your souls .
  2. Self-righteousness — Some, when they have devoted their set time to reading the Word , and accomplished their prescribed portion , may be tempted to look at themselves with self complacency. Many, I am persuaded , are living without any Divine work on their soul — unpardoned, and unsanctified, and ready to perish – who spend their appointed times in secret and family devotion. This is going to hell with a lie in the right hand .
  3. Careless reading — Few tremble at the Word of God. Few in reading it, hear the voice of Jehovah, which is full of majesty. Some, by having so large a portion, may be tempted to weary of it, as Israel did of the daily manna, saying — “Our soul loatheth this light bread;” and to read it in a slight and careless manner. This would be fearfully provoking to God. Take heed lest that word be true of you — “Ye said, also, Behold, what a weariness is it? and ye have snuffed it, saith the Lord of Hosts.”
  4. A yoke too heavy to bear — Some may engage in reading with alacrity for a time, and afterwards feel it a burden grievous to be borne. They may find conscience dragging them through the appointed task without any relish of the heavenly food. If this be the case with any, throw aside the fetter and feed at liberty in the sweet garden of God. My desire is not to cast a snare upon you, but to be a helper of your joy.
    DAILY BREAD BEING A CALENDAR FOR READING THROUGH THE WORD OF GOD IN A YEAR reprinted in the The Works of Rev Robert Murray McCheyne (1874), available via Google Books

The good reverend, then addresses an important question,

“If there be so many dangers why propose such a scheme at all? To this I answer that the best things are accompanied with danger as the fairest flowers are often gathered in the clefts of some dangerous precipice.”

You can read more of M’Cheyne’s list of advantages in his original text (and perhaps you could think of a few of your own). You can find his reading plan in several places on the web, including YouVersion, Bible Gateway, a print copy with a forward by J John is available for purchase, or you can print out your own customisable version (choose your start date) from the Bible Reading Plan Generator. The plan was commended by John Stott who was introduced to it in the 1950’s by Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones and more recently praised by Don Carson, and Jordan Stone plus a lot of other people (I’ve not looked at all the articles Google suggested). It is currently used by the UK Bible Society for their Daily Reflections.

As for me, during 2022, I plan to read the Bible quite a lot without setting out too strict a route or timeline. I’ve “binge-read” three books already but might go faster or slower through out the year. Some bits I will read or listen to several times. I expect to hear sermons and talks on several bits, and expect (again) not to hear many sermons on a few of the less popular passages. I’m also hoping to explore more of what the Bible itself has to say about engaging with Scripture, and exploring some attitudes and ideas from down the centuries and around the world.

It’s not too late to think about Christmas December 1, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Uncategorized.
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Advent has started so it’s no longer too early to be thinking about Christmas, but it’s also not too late for churches to think about how they can be a bit more multicultural and a bit more multilingual in making everyone in their church feel welcome and included.

[update Dec 29 – technically it’s still not too late to think about Christmas. The 12 days of Christmas ‘conveniently’ link the dates for the western and the eastern churches. You could also put a link to this post in your calendar so you have links to these resources ready for 2022 …oh, and one more thing – Jesus is for life, not just for Christmas, so it’s okay to tell the story at other times too, especially if people haven’t heard it before!]

A site I often recommend to raise awareness of Christmas traditions from around the world is WhyChristmas.com . This is an easy thing to share on social media or in a newsletter or Christmas card, and start a discussion on different Christmas traditions.

A couple of years ago I posted on how to say Merry Christmas in many languages.

Last year I started a youtube playlist of Christmas carols that have been translated into many different languages. I’m planning to add a few dozen more and mix them up a bit so that there is a bit more variety of song as well as language. This playlist Multilingual Christmas (translated carols), features versions of just a few songs starting with Persian, Navajo, Lotha, ASL, Telugu, German, Hindi, Russian, Arabic, Nepali, Samoan, and a few bits in English. One of my current favourites is a seven language version of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.

[update Dec 12th] – The playlist now includes over 40 languages including additions in French, Indonesian, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish, Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Twi, Latin, Gaelic, Slovak, Albanian, Welsh, Kapampangan, Bengali, Malay.

A few of the older songs started out in Latin and German, and in another list I hoped to include some of my favourite Christmas songs from around the world that aren’t (yet) so international but others have perhaps already done this quite well. Songs to Serve has created a great and growing playlist Christmas Songs from Different Cultures. Another Global Christmas Songs 2021 has an accompanying reading guide compiled by ethnodoxoligist, Paul Neeley, with a separate post for each song.

Traditional carols may offer good outreach possibilities as the tunes are recognisable by communities worldwide that have at least been exposed to western forms of Christianity and can actually be played and sung in shopping centres not just in churches. (Glory to God in the High st). Again individual songs or the link to the playlist can also be shared on social media.

And just in case you were wondering….

While the most translated modern Christian song is The Blessing, the most translated Christmas carol is probably Silent Night which has apparently been translated into over 140 languages. A comprehensive list with lyrics is at silentnight.web.za .

Finding (hidden) languages: Why? November 13, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, multilingualism.
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I was excited recently to get a detailed list of the 300 plus languages spoken in 152 local authorities across England and Wales. I already had the list of languages (Available here) but now I have details of where they are spoken and some clues as to by how many people, and I hope to use this to encourage churches to think more deeply about the languages spoken by the people inside their churches and the people around them. This includes new migrants who might need help learning English, but also people who speak English well alongside one or more other languages they grew up with.

In education, schools and local authorities want to have a better idea of the language backgrounds of their pupils and their families to help them in planning and provision. Some may continue to see other ‘languages spoken at home’ as a barrier to education, others are seeing that using ‘home languages’ more at school provides fresh opportunities for individual pupils or even the whole class.

Screenshot from an excellent video on First and Other Languages by Hampshire County Council

A video from Hampshire County Council in 2020 states, “Anyone involved in education understands the benefits of being able to speak and use more than one language – an asset that is becoming increasingly useful in our connected world”. Sadly one reason that they need the video, and the accompanying course is that this view hasn’t always been the dominant one.

A relatively new term used in multilingual education is “translanguaging”, explained in another resource pointed to by Hampshire, from Pearson International Schools “Translanguaging – what is it and how do you plan for it? FAQs“. I’ll be talking about it more as I discuss the implications with colleagues who presented on Bible Translation and Translanguaging at the Bible Translation conference I attended.

Photo of a wall at our local hospital

In healthcare, knowing the languages spoken in the community can be an important part of providing care, ensuring that some materials are available in multiple languages, and that translators are on call where needed. Working with SIL I’ve been aware for over 25 years that our work with local languages has a significant impact on health outcomes. SIL’s Language and Culture Archives have over 1500 resources categorised under Health and Hygene.

Again this isn’t always just about making information available to people who don’t speak or can’t read the national language, it is also about going the extra step of making it personal and relevant. In the UK one of the languages that didn’t show up in the 2011 census of England and Wales was Tetum, spoken in Timor. I spotted it on a census report in Northern Ireland and have since learned that there may be as many as 16-18,000 speakers currently in the UK. A couple of health authorities had already noticed this and produced information on Covid and vaccinations in the language.

In the church, making the best use of available data on people and languages has been part of making the case for mission, and making plans for centuries.

Some history…

In 1792 William Carey devoted a significant portion of his ‘Enquiry’ into setting out his understanding of the state of the world. Part of this was to combat a false narrative at the time that the missionary endeavour was largely complete, and that if God wanted to convert ‘the heathen’ he’d do it without the likes of ‘enthusiasts’ like Carey.

Some of the data today may help combat contemporary false narratives.

The Bible Societies kept records of what was known to have been done, and what was in progress. In 1939 Rev Robert Kilgour listed 1115 languages that had at least some portion of scripture, but stated that any definitive answer as to how many more were needed was impossible. That same year the secretary of the American Bible Society had used a figure from the French Academy suggesting that there were “2,776 languages in the world”. Levels of bilingualism were assumed for the non-majority languages, especially in urban areas and the aim was understood not to be translation for every language but ensuring that everyone had something in a language they could understand. “No doubt there are still several dialects in which it will be necessary to make a version of a Gospel in order to reach more surely the hearts of country folk.”
(A pdf of Kilgour’s The Bible Throughout the World can be downloaded at https://missiology.org.uk/book_bible-throughout-the-world_kilgour.php )

The assumption was that even then 90% of the world had at least something, and so conversely 10% did not. It wasn’t until Cameron Townsend. Leonard Legters, and other founders of SIL that a more comprehensive list of remaining languages began to emerge.

Speculation that there might be 1,000 languages gave way to the notion of “2,000 tongues to go” and the numbers kept going up as more languages were catalogued.

It became clear early on that the need for translation wasn’t quite as simple as counting languages and ticking off the list once ‘something’ was translated. In the early days of the Ethnologue some languages were classified as “too bilingual”.

It’s still common to present the big pictures needs to western monolingual churches and funders more in terms of languages than of people but the story is beginning to change, and that may in part be as we open our eyes and ears to the diversity in our own communities.

Beyond the issue of whether people need scripture in their own language in order to understand, are issues raised by theologian Lamin Sanneh and others about identity and connection. Bible translation is not just intellectual comprehension but head and heart connection. This is a view often reflected on by speakers of minority languages when the scriptures are first available in their language.

Some further research needed

Research and discussion needs to continue about the current and future role of languages in a multlingual world.

In 2019 SIL published a collection of essays on, “Language and Identity in a Multilingual, Migrating World“.

In 2020 SIL colleagues organised the God and Language Forum, reflecting on many issues including the theologies of language. An ebook is due early next year with a print one to follow in due course, but may of the individual papers are already available via the link.

As I’ll explain in my next post, while there is a lot of information about some of the places where some of the (mostly larger) languages are spoken, significant research also needs to continue into finding more data to answer the questions SIL is now encouraging project staff to think about:

“What are all the languages that this community uses?”

“Where are all the communities that use this language?” 

And the related questions I would love churches to consider:

“What are the languages spoken in your community?”

“What are the languages spoken in your church?”

Finding (hidden) Diaspora Languages – intro October 15, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, multilingualism, Scripture Engagement, Statistics.
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Good data can help us ask (and sometime answer) a number of questions. Two key questions I want to ask are: “What are the languages spoken in your community?” and “What are the languages spoken in your church?”

I’m looking forward to presenting a paper today at the 2021 Bible Translation conference, on how to find more of the languages that are spoken outside of their country of origin, and people that speak them. I’m also looking forward to saying why I think this is important.

I have a written a few posts on this already including, Ten Reasons for a More Multilingual Church, but I suspect that one reason that the church doesn’t talk much about language is that they still need to talk more about Race, Justice, Culture and Diversity.

I’ve read a lot more articles on issues around language use and linguistic discrimination (which can also include accentism), as well as about churches working towards greater inclusion and models of intercultural church. Part of my contribution into discussion and action in this area has been in digging deeper into data.

Did you know that over a 100 countries were due a census in 2020 or 2021? Some of these ask questions about how well people speak the national language (or languages) and about the main language(s) spoken at home.

2011 Census details for England and Wales include about 80 languages plus over 20 different broad categories of “other”. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own censuses and picked up a few more. Results from the 2021 census won’t be available until at least March 2022 (probably later).

Meanwhile, frequent reports of there being over 300 languages spoken in London are based on data coming from schools. (2015 data is online and a freedom of information request got me the latest list and the ability to delve deeper).

Prior to 2020, the US Census and American Community Survey had details on over 350 languages but might include more that get reported in the 2020 census. In a 2016 review, “Any language that was written in at least once between 1980 and 2015 was given a code. This resulted in 1,334 language codes”American Community Survey Redesign of Language-Spoken-at-Home Data, 2016

Meanwhile, over 700 languages have been identified in New York.

While better data on the languages spoken in our multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual cities and towns is useful for Bible Translation and Scripture Engagement  – it may also be about justice, equity, inclusion, and richness.

In some upcoming posts I’ll share just a few of the questions I’m exploring.

Under the question of “Why?” I explore reasons for wanting to know more than is already known about the distribution of migrant languages and their speakers.

Under “Who”, I raise the questions of who has information and why.

In a category of “How” I explore how information can be obtained and arranged.

Exploring “What exists?” and “What next?”, I share some discoveries to date and further exploration that may be needed.

If Bible Translation was an Olympic Event… August 1, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Statistics.
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If Bible translation was an Olympic event then looking at languages per country, the ‘medal’ table for the first 20 countries might look something like the chart below. But it all depends on what you count…

& Stories
1 India7212567264
4Democratic Republic
of the Congo
10Papua New Guinea16265137418
20Russian Federation10222961
data from progress.bible July 2021

The chart shows totals for translated scripture by the ‘hub country’ for each language. This avoids counting a language in more than one country but can sometimes give a distorted picture – as could assuming that all the athletes representing a country speak only the ‘national’ language of the country.

The truth is that many Olympic teams and many Olympic cities are a celebration of diversity. The website Olympic Cities states that London is “A world-in-one city”, “With no less than 230 languages spoken”. (most sources claim over 300 languages spoken in the city, and I suspect that to be an underestimate).

Charts showing the number of Olympic medals won by each nation rarely include columns about the numbers of athletes entering or the total population of the country. The chart on Bible translations above doesn’t show the total number of languages for each country.

Another ‘problem’ with my chart is that it doesn’t take into account how recently the translations have been completed, or how readily available they are.

So here’s a quick table of the world totals from the last few Olympic years, along with a couple of notes of explanation.

(so far)
New Testament96010341168127514421583
data from wycliffe.net and progress.bible

Translation statistics above are those reported by Wycliffe Global Alliance, usually up until September 30 of each year, so there are still a few to add for 2021. ‘Results’ don’t come in quite as quickly as for the Olympics – figures here are from July 2021.

The leap in 2016 is due to identification of some previously unreported translations plus a change in reporting which included selections and stories rather than limiting portions to the translation of a full book.

Currently, work is in progress in over 700 of the languages in which nothing has been published, and many languages that have ‘something’ will have a lot more by the start of the Paris Olympics in 2024.

As for availability, most published scriptures are available in print and/or audio somewhere (if you know where to look) and in recent years an amazing (Olympian?) effort has been made to make scripture available digitally with scripture now available in at least 2100 languages via apps and websites with about 200 of these being made available for the first time just this year. (almost 90 new on YouVersion since my last blog post and 28 new languages added in June to the audio recordings from faithcomesbyhearing.com ).

The apps with scriptures in the most languages are YouVersion and Bible.is and the most complete public index of these and others is ScriptureEarth.org.

A quick request. I don’t mind how many people link to this blog post, but I’d love to see more churches celebrating the variety of languages and cultures in their community, helping people find scripture online and exploring other aspects of being a more multilingual church. If your church website and social media doesn’t already link to online Bibles, why not suggest it?

The Bible: between 1500-1600 April 10, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Bible Translation, Scripture Engagement, Statistics.
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When I mentioned that YouVersion had scripture in 1555 languages, one facebook friend thought that I was talking about the language of the year 1555, not the number of languages. Perhaps I should have written my post to commemorate the first authorised translations in the English language “Great Bible” of 1539, also known as the “Chained Bible”.

“The Great Bible” 1539, also known as “The Chained Bible”

A lot of things changed in regard to the availability of scripture in the 1500’s. I’ll mention a few of them before reflecting on the amazing progress being made in our own century.

William Tyndale started translating the Bible into English in the 1520’s, with the New Testament first published in 1525. For this (and perhaps for some of the words used) he was forced to flee. In 1536 charged with heresy, he was tied to a stake, strangled and then his body burned. His final words are reported as, “Lord! Open the King of England’s eyes.”

His prayer was answered. The principle of an English Bible was legalised in 1536 and the first authorised text was approved in 1537 (here’s the letter). While not given official credit, Tyndale’s translation was built upon in the Matthew Bible (1537), The Great Bible (1539), and the Authorised Version or King James Bible (1611).

The Mathew Bible 1537, British Library
“The Byble, which is all the holy Scripture: in whych are contayned the Olde and Newe Testament
truly and purely translated into Englysh by Thomas Matthew.”
View more at https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/matthews-bible

You can read more about the various versions on the website of the British Library in a 2019 article by Alec Ryrie, “From Sacred Scriptures to the people’s Bible” .

The picture at the top of this post is of the “Great Bible” which as the caption says and the Wikipedia article explains, the name was due to it’s size and it was also referred to as the “Chained Bible”.

Suddenly, it wasn’t just legal for churches to own a copy, it was commanded,

In 1538, Cromwell directed the clergy to provide “one book of the Bible of the largest volume in English, and the same set up in some convenient place within the said church that ye have care of, whereas your parishioners may most commodiously resort to the same and read it.”


But, on display in the church was still different to being available in people’s homes. The Bible’s were often chained to prevent removal from the church.

Today, as I also mention a lot in my blog posts, the Bible is very widely available in a huge number of languages. There are full Bible in over 700 languages.

progress.bible/data March 2021

Many others have at least a New Testament

progress.bible/data March 2021

And still more have selections and individual books of the Bible published.

progress.bible/data March 2021

Published, still isn’t the same as freely available to everyone and freely available isn’t the same as people knowing where and how to access a copy, but through print and digital versions this is getting closer. Making scripture available on an app or website still doesn’t quite make it accessible to everyone, but it’s certainly a help.

I started the post with my friends confusion about YouVersion having the Bible (or at least part of it) in 1555 languages. This was on March 24, 2021. By the time I started writing this post that number had gone up to 1575 languages, and as I publish the number at the bottom of their page at bible.com has just shot up to 2375 versions in 1639 languages.
It might be more by the time you click the link!

YouVersion isn’t the only platform providing scripture as text, audio, and as part of films including the Jesus film and the new Lumo Gospel films. Also check out the recordings data base of Faith Comes By Hearing and via their bible.is app. ScriptureEarth.org is another fantastic resource, providing links to the major platforms and also hosting a large number of additional texts and recordings along with links to individual apps and scripture sites.

Do you know anyone who doesn’t know that an “unchained” Bible is available on their phone? Is your church making people aware of this?

Reading (or watching) the Bible for fun April 6, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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It’s been said that you can’t judge a book by its cover – but people still do. The cover of the Doric New Testament does not scream “fun”, and yet that is a comment from a genuine review on Amazon.

“I love this bible . It’s such fun . I read it aloud to who ever will listen , usually my long suffering friend . I know the regular bible well but it’s SO good to read it in local dialect and reading it aloud helps me work out what it means . Some of the words are so funny . As a Lossiemouth girl ( originally ) who has lived in the North East of Scotland all my life it’s like reading it afresh with new eyes . It touches my heart and is as real as any other bible .” –

Tea Jenny, Amazon Review of The Doric New Testament, Translated by Gordon Hay

When I started to ask, “Why do people read the Bible?“, not many said because it was fun. I think it’s a valid reason, but might need to explain that.

Holy Doric?

I suspect that a few people would be uncomfortable with the idea of reading the Bible for fun, because “fun” might imply not taking scripture seriously. There are jokes in the Bible, but most of them get lost in translation. In the case of the Doric New Testament, the delight appears to be in the incongruity of local dialect words being used, phrases that truly “bring something home” to the readers but with words that sound a little strange on the lips of Jesus and those around him, because people are more used to hearing scripture in more formal language.

The final line of the review is also telling, both in “it touches my heart” and “is as real as any other Bible”.

Bible translation isn’t just about making the word available to people who can’t understand it in another language, or in more formal language, but is about the idea that the language use can touch the heart. Translation organisations have even made a lot of the phrase “heart language” and my own organisation has recently begun recognising that in a multilingual world, some people have more than one “heart language”.

The second point is that people do have expectations, including oddly enough, that the Bible should sound formal and harder to understand, and that anything that sounds too colloquial somehow isn’t a proper Bible. Some fans of the King James Version for instance, like to point to certain ideas about the beauty of the translation, and the integrity of the source texts, but for many it’s probably more of a notion that it just “sounds holier”. (though in 1611, people may have had a different idea)

Watching a Bible themed TV series for fun?

The TV series “The Chosen” doesn’t claim to be the Bible.

The Chosen is based on the true stories of the gospels of Jesus Christ. Some locations and timelines have been combined or condensed. Backstories and some characters or dialogue have been added.

However, all biblical and historical context and any artistic imagination are designed to support the truth and intention of the Scriptures. Viewers are encouraged to read the gospels.

Opening credits of the Chosen Series 1, https://watch.angelstudios.com/thechosen/watch

The writers have clearly and intentionally made up the backstories of the characters, and have also put words into the mouth of Jesus that are not recorded in scripture. (more on that in another post). All that being said, I binge watched the entire first season over Easter and enjoyed it. I’ve seen many film portrayals of Jesus over the years and as one pastor friend said of the series, this “makes him real”. (Neither of us are in doubt that Jesus was and is real, but I get what he meant). The portrayal is of a Jesus who dances at the wedding in Cana, who shows care and concern for his mother who laughs with his disciples, and who’s meeting with Nicodemus sounds like a compassionate conversation rather that than a set of theological sound bites. Does it get everything right? No. But then, neither do I when I imagine the scenes in my own head.

Like the Doric New Testament part of the joy of the interpretation is in it’s use of language that doesn’t sound like the Bible you are used to reading.

The show can be viewed via it’s own website or app and is also available on YouVersion’s Bible site and App. It is being translated into about 50 languages. Doric isn’t one of them. If you’ve not seen it yet, take a look at the trailer and see what you think…

Why do people read the Bible? – looking for answers, and finding questions March 23, 2021

Posted by Pete B in Scripture Engagement.
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The reason I first started reading the Bible was simple: I didn’t believe in God …but I wanted to.

I was looking for purpose in life, and at that point simply a reason to keep living.

Some people start with a belief in God and a desire to know him more.

Some start with a desire to know him more, if he is real, not being sure when we start the search either because we’ve never been part of a community of believers or because we’ve been disillusioned or let down.

So perhaps it was desperation, perhaps curiosity, perhaps hope that led me to read the Bible.

I’d listened to a tape of Christian music (For anyone not born in the last century, this was 1989, in the days when music was stored on reels of magnetic tape). In the final song, the enthusiastic young songwriter was singing about how he’d read the Bible and now had a life overflowing with love, joy, peace and power. I didn’t believe a word of it …but I wanted to, so I went and found the pocket sized New Testament I’d been given at school and actually started reading it.

Reading the Bible helped me make sense of the bits I’d already heard, helped me understand more about the central character in the story, find some of the deeper answers I thought I’d been looking for, and a few surprises along the way.

The purpose of this post however, isn’t to give the story of my journey over the years with God and the Bible, but just to highlight that different people will have different starting points and different experiences. Some may come looking for reassurance, encouragement, direction, intimacy with God, answers to issues in life. Some even come for reasons that don’t sound so great. Some have come looking for an argument and to try an disprove the Bible. There are testimonies of people who have come with this attitude and had their lives turned around, but there are also those who read the gospels and yet somehow miss the good news.

Have you stopped to think why and when you started reading the Bible? How does it compare to other people in (or not in) your church?

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