Newsline for April 8, 2009

“He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:5a).

1) On Earth Peace reports mid-year financial concern.
2) Bethany Seminary holds second annual Presidential Forum.
3) Domestic hunger program receives funding to fulfill grant requests.
4) Church of the Brethren Credit Union offers online banking.
5) Brethren Press responds to ruling about lead in children’s products.
6) Brethren bits: Response to flooding, youth/young adult news, more.

7) A reflection: Eight people were baptized….
8) Erwin church demonstrates how to keep your faith.
9) The Cross.

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1) On Earth Peace reports mid-year financial concern.

On Earth Peace in a recent newsletter has reported concerns about its finances. The organization currently is at the mid-point in its fiscal year.

“At the half-way point of our fiscal year, our income is running about $9,500 above expenses,” reported executive director Bob Gross in follow up comments by e-mail. “However, most years the difference between income and expense is considerably greater at this half-way point. We know that income is generally lower in the second half of the year, and expenses are usually higher. So we are concerned.”

In the newsletter report, Gross wrote that “the current economic downturn, and the financial bind it puts on our organization, is threatening essential ministries of peace-building and reconciliation.” He called for prayer following the downsizing of denominational staff and redesign of some programs of the Church of the Brethren, and encouraged participation in the listening process that has been announced following the closing of the Washington Office, noting that participation will help the church make decisions about the future of its peace witness.

“The economic downturn we are experiencing is both global and local,” Gross wrote in the newsletter. “Some of us are feeling its effects personally; nearly all of us know persons who have been strongly affected…. It is important that we pray for those who have been most affected by these cuts in staff and program, including those who have carried the responsibility of making painful decisions.”

“For the first time in several years, On Earth Peace’s income in 2008 did not keep up with expenses,” Gross reported. He said that the organization has drawn from its limited reserves to make up the difference, which comes to about 7 percent of the On Earth Peace budget for 2008. Current projections show an even greater gap between income and expenses this year for On Earth Peace, he said.

Gross announced that in order to preserve its small reserve fund, On Earth Peace has set a strict limit on any withdrawal from reserves this year. It will work at ways to control expenses, but he noted that “our normal way of working is already very frugal. Our salaries are modest, many volunteers assist our small staff in the work, and we keep our travel and other expenses very low.” His report also noted the efficiency of the On Earth Peace program, from an audited financial report for 2008 showing only 11 percent of contributions spent on fundraising and administration combined, while 89 percent has gone directly to program ministries.

2) Bethany Seminary holds second annual Presidential Forum.

Bethany Theological Seminary hosted its second annual Presidential Forum March 29-30 with the theme “Weaving Wisdom’s Tent: The Arts of Peace.” Focusing on scripture from the Wisdom of Solomon 7:23-81, wisdom was invoked and examined throughout the forum. Gathered together to weave poetry, painting, song, and spirit, participants experienced varied forms of art over the two full days of the event.

Highlights of the forum included three plenary sessions lead by artists who embody peacemaking through their work. Marge Piercy, poet and novelist, shared reflections on art affecting consciousness a little bit at a time. She read several of her own poems including “The Art of Blessing the Day” and “To Be of Use,” reflecting the reality of a world without peace, and hope for peaceful transformation.

John Paul Lederach, professor of International Peacebuilding with the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, highlighted the “craft of noticing” and how careful noticing and listening are expressed through thoughtful words of poetry and artistic expression.

Painter Douglas Kinsey displayed several paintings portraying places where justice is absent. He shared his creative work as a way to bring about justice by exposing injustice. All three plenary speakers stimulated thoughtful questions and fruitful conversations.

Outside of the plenary sessions were imaginative worship services, creative workshops, and reflective conversation groups that engaged a variety of arts striving for peace. The Manchester College A Cappella Choir, with special guest James Hersch, offered music, and several seminary and college students had the opportunity to share their own creative works in a panel discussion.

“There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear…” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:23). Wisdom certainly was present and enveloped the Presidential Forum as Bethany Theological Seminary invited space for the arts to speak of the things that make for peace.

— Monica Rice is a student at Bethany Theological Seminary.

3) Domestic hunger program receives funding to fulfill grant requests.

The Church of the Brethren’s Domestic Hunger Matching Grant program has received an additional $30,000 from the Global Food Crisis Fund as well as approximately $30,000 in donations received in response to a direct fundraising appeal for the program. The program has offered matching grants of up to $500 to match congregations’ contributions for local food pantries and soup kitchens during the first quarter of 2009.

The program was conceived as a 10-week special response to the food crisis across the country this winter, co-sponsored by the church’s Global Food Crisis Fund and Emergency Disaster Fund, along with the Stewardship department.

The new funding represents enough money to match the remaining 158 applications from congregations. Congregations that submitted applications by the deadline of March 15 will have their grant amounts matched by the program. The matching grants will aid local food banks and food pantries in communities across the United States.

Congregations and denominational programs together have provided a total of more than $330,000 in assistance to 318 food pantries.

“In summary, through the Domestic Matching Grant Program, 354 congregations raised $186,446 for local food banks,” reported Howard Royer, manager of the Global Food Crisis Fund. The Global Food Crisis Fund provided a total of $80,000, and the Emergency Disaster Fund provided a total of $37,500.

“We rejoice not only in this monetary response but in the significant way Brethren congregations and individuals are otherwise engaged in local ministries of compassion,” Royer said.

4) Church of the Brethren Credit Union offers online banking.

Members of the Church of the Brethren Credit Union can now view their accounts at any time of day, anywhere in the world. On April 1, the credit union launched online banking services, including account access and bill pay, through the website Brethren Benefit Trust has acted as a third-party administrator for the Church of the Brethren Credit Union since April 2004.

“We’re excited to offer online access to Credit Union account holders. Now all Credit Union members can keep track of their accounts from any Internet connection,” said Steve Bob, director of the Church of the Brethren Credit Union. “In these times, it’s important for our members to be able to manage their accounts at any time, not just within our office hours. We hope these services will encourage our members to continue to be good stewards of their financial resources,” Bob said.

The new online services allow credit union members to monitor their account balances; transfer funds among savings, checking, and Club accounts; and submit credit union loan payments from any Internet connection, 24 hours a day. A bill pay system has also been added to the Church of the Brethren Credit Union’s online services for members with checking accounts. Bill pay allows users to set up payees to handle such payments as auto insurance, cable television, or utility bills, or even their monthly tithe. Members can transfer money to any outside party or individual who has a checking account and an e-mail address.

Online banking is available to all members of the credit union, whether they have a savings account or both savings and checking accounts. Access to credit union accounts online is a free service, and members can sign up at To use bill pay, members must have a checking account through the credit union. Credit union members who are not signed up for checking accounts can do so by downloading the Account Agreement form from and submitting it with a $25 deposit. New checking account members will receive a free box of checks when they open their accounts.

For additional information see or contact the Church of the Brethren Credit Union at or 888-832-1383.

5) Brethren Press responds to ruling about lead in children’s products.

Brethren Press and Gather ’Round, the curriculum jointly produced by Brethren Press and the Mennonite Publishing Network, are working under a tight timeline to meet new requirements for testing for lead and other chemicals in children’s products, and certification of children’s products including books and other printed materials.

A recent act of congress has set a year’s deadline to prevent the presence of lead and phthalate, and other potential health hazards in children’s products. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) has set the new requirements for testing and certification of children’s products that are sold or distributed in the United States. The deadline for compliance was originally Feb. 10, 2009, but recently a one-year stay of enforcement was announced. The act affects not only publishers but libraries and schools that own books for children.

Under the CPSIA, “we would be liable if it were discovered that any products we sell contain lead over the legislated maximum,” said Anna Speicher, editor for Gather ’Round. “We would never want to produce and sell a product that would pose a health hazard to anyone,” she said. “However, all indications so far are that the US printing industry is not using paper or inks that contain levels of hazardous substances anywhere near the mininum amounts specified by law.”

The curriculum and Brethren Press will be seeking third-party certification of their products for children, which are printed by a variety of companies. “We were heartened by the reactions from the printers who appear to be taking the view that it is their responsibility to provide any necessary testing and certification,” Speicher said. “Further, it does not appear to be the case that we need to test every product, but rather that a testing program needs to be in place and the paper and inks we use would need to be certified as sufficiently lead-free.”

Brethren Press already has received certification on two of its stronger selling children’s titles, “Faith the Cow” and “Benjamin Brody’s Backyard Bag.” Both titles have passed the requirements, reported Jeff Lennard, director of Marketing and Sales.

The publishing industry has filed a request to be exempted from the act on the grounds that regular books do not present any kind of a health threat. The request is being filed through the Association of American Publishers, an organization whose members include large and small publishers of children’s books in the consumer marketplace, nonprofits, and publishers of instructional and assessment materials for students at all levels of education.

6) Brethren bits: Response to flooding, youth/young adult news, more.

— Children’s Disaster Services, a ministry of the Church of the Brethren serving children and families following disasters, has monitored the need for child care responding to the flooding in North Dakota and Minnesota. After a team of child care volunteers arrived at Fargo on March 30, but found no immediate need for their services, the volunteers ended up helping the American Red Cross with other tasks. Children’s Disaster Services director Judy Bezon commented, “True to form, they found another way to help.”

— The Church of the Brethren’s Material Resources program has coordinated several shipments responding to situations in the news recently. The program shipped 30 medicine boxes valued at $101,095.50 to Gaza, Israel, on behalf of IMA World Health and International Orthodox Christian Charities. A Friday afternoon telephone call resulted in rearrangement of two shipments of clean up buckets originally bound for Arkansas, to be shipped instead to help with the flooding in North Dakota. In addition, a shipment of blankets, school kits, and hygiene kits were delivered to North Dakota in response to the flood situation. The North Dakota shipments were arranged through QW Express, a shipping company owned by a Church of the Brethren member in Virginia, reported Material Resources director Loretta Wolf.

— The Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, Ill., marked its 50th anniversary today. Fifty years ago today, on April 8, 1959, a dedication service was held for the General Offices in the chapel. The building was new and the staff had just moved into it from the old building on State Street in Elgin. A celebration of the 50th anniversary of the General Offices is being planned for May 13.

— The Church of the Brethren’s National Youth Sunday is scheduled for May 3. Congregations are encouraged to invite youth to participate in leading Sunday worship on the theme, “Standing On Holy Ground” from Exodus 3:5. Go to to find skits, Bible studies, scripture jams, children’s stories, a bulletin insert, and other worship resources.

— National Junior High Conference registration continues to be open after April 15, however the cost will rise to $150 after that date, from the early registration cost of $125. “There are still spaces left and we would love for you to attend National Junior High Conference at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., June 19-21,” said an invitation from the Church of the Brethren’s Youth and Young Adult Ministry. Go to for online registration. Participants living west of the Mississippi River may apply for a $150 travel scholarship, contact 800-323-8039 ext. 281 for details.

— Young Adult Conference registration also is still open, with the registration fee rising to $100 after April 15. The conference is for young adults ages 18-35 and will be held at Camp Swatara in Bethel, Pa., on May 23-25. Go to to register online. For questions or more information call 800-323-8039 ext. 281.

— McPherson (Kan.) College on April 17-19 will offer a Regional Youth Conference for the Church of the Brethren districts of Missouri and Arkansas, Northern Plains, Southern Plains, and Western Plains. The theme is “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God.” Leadership will be provided by Rex Miller and Curt Rowland of Camp Alexander Mack in Milford, Ind. Jen Jehnsen will lead worship. Cost is $46 per person. Contact Tom Hurst, Director of Campus Ministries, at or 620-242-0503.

— Upcoming courses offered through the Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center include two classes to be taught by Old Testament scholar Robert Neff: “Psalms: The Inner Life of Lament and Praise” on April 23-26 at Stone Church of the Brethren in Huntingdon, Pa.; and “Reading Biblical Books in Context: A Study of the Festal Scrolls” on May 19 at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College. Contact the Susquehanna Valley Ministry Center at 717-361-1450 or or go to

— Bethel Ministries, sponsored by Mountain View Church of the Brethren in Boise, Idaho, has been the subject of an article in the “Idaho Statesman.” Bethel Ministries is a program that helps to rehabilitate men convicted by violent crimes or sexual offenses as they transition back into society after serving terms in prison. The program runs four neighborhood homes with the capacity for 34 men, working closely with probation and parole officers and programs such as such as Alcoholics Anonymous or SANE (Sex Abuse Now Ended) Solutions. Rob Lee, who is the executive director of Bethel Ministries, currently serves the congregation as director of worship. The “Idaho Statesman” highlighted Lee as running “a rigorous and disciplined, six-month program for men,” committed to “creating a safer community by guiding society’s most hated criminals to a clean, spiritually based life…. He’s upfront and clear about his program and its strict rules. Each man must commit his life to Jesus Christ before entering Bethel Ministries.” Mountain View pastor David McKellip reported that this past year the church has called a number of Bethel graduates to serve on its board of directors.

— The finance committee of Oregon and Washington District has written a letter to congregations asking for ideas to help attain sufficient funding for the district. The committee was appointed when the district budget was adopted at last year’s District Conference in September. “We continue to operate at a deficit,” the letter said in part. “We really do want our district to thrive. So…if you have an idea, suggestion, or comment we invite you to forward your thoughts to us and thereby be a part of this important ‘work in progress.’” Sample ideas included a “Church of the Month” special offering and a “10th Man Project” based on the story of the 10 lepers, of whom only one returned to thank Jesus.

— The Fahrney-Keedy Home and Village Board of Directors has announced the appointment of two new board members: Keith Bryan, of Westminster, Md., president and fundraising counsel of Sundance Consulting Services; and Joseph Dahms of Glade Valley Church of the Brethren in Walkersville, Md., economics professor at Hood College in Frederick, Md., since 1978. Fahrney-Keedy is a Church of the Brethren continuing care retirement community near Boonsboro, Md.

— The annual Christian Peace Witness for Iraq is scheduled for April 29-30 in Washington, D.C. Organizers plan to gather thousands of loaves of bread in front of the White House on the evening of April 29 as a symbol of repentance and new life. Each loaf will be accompanied by a monetary contribution, the bread will be shared with the hungry, and financial gifts will support the people of Iraq. Other events include an opening convocation and an evening worship service on April 29, and a closing witness on the steps of the Capitol building on the morning of April 30 timed to coincide with the 100th day of a new administration and new Congress. Featured speakers include Tony Campolo, Daniel Berrigan, and others. Go to for more information or to register.

— The National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Program offers resources for making Earth Day Sunday worship “reverent and relevant.” Churches are encouraged to celebrate Earth Day Sunday on April 19 or 26. Resources include the Eco-Justice Program’s 2009 Earth Day Sunday resource, “Celebrating and Caring for God’s Creation” (go to to download); prayers, hymns, and liturgy about climate change (go to to find them online); and a free copy of the video “God’s Creation and Global Warming” on the connection between human actions and the impact on God’s Creation (go to contact to order).

— A Good Friday Service is being held at Colosimo’s Gun Center in Philadelphia, as a follow-up to the “Heeding God’s Call” gathering that took place in January, held by the Historic Peace Churches. At the gathering, a new faith-based campaign against gun violence in America’s cities was launched, and witnesses were held at the gun center. The center “has been named one of the 10 worst gun dealers in the country due to the number of handguns it sells traced to crimes,” said an announcement of the event. “Heeding God’s Call asked Mr. Colosimo to sign a 10 point Code of Conduct (agreed to by Wal-Mart) intended to keep handguns from being sold to straw purchasers who supply the criminal market. Mr. Colosimo has refused to sign.” The Good Friday Service on April 10 will include prayer for victims, families, and friends of those affected by gun violence. For more information contact or 267-519-5302.

— The Christian Peacemaker Team in Iraq, which includes Church of the Brethren member Peggy Gish, has announced a new emphasis on accompaniment of Kurdish villages on the northern border of Iraq that are threatened by bombings and attacks by Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. “The US government has allowed Turkish military planes to fly over Iraqi airspace and has given Turkey military ‘intelligence’ to bomb Kurdish villages along Iraq’s northern borders with Turkey and Iran, causing destruction of hundreds of villages and displacement of villagers,” wrote Gish in a recent release for CPT. The CPT Iraq team has relocated to Dohuk in northwest Iraq. Go to to find Gish’s reports online.

— The April edition of “Brethren Voices” features the Shenandoah Song and Story Fest under the title, “Streams of Mercy, Never Ceasing.” “Brethren Voices” is a monthly public access television show sponsored by Peace Church of the Brethren in Portland, Ore., and produced by Ed Groff. In the April edition, Ken Kline Smeltzer, founder of “Song and Story Fest,” hosts the program and introduces a day’s activities at the Song and Story Fest annual family camp co-sponsored by On Earth Peace. The program also includes Jim Lehman’s story about the youth who brought the motion to the 1948 Annual Conference to establish Brethren Volunteer Service. More information about “Brethren Voices” can be obtained from Groff at

— Brethren author Peggy Reiff Miller of Milford, Ind., is touring this spring to honor the “seagoing cowboys” who tended livestock on cattle boats to Europe and China following World War II. The trips were part of the reconstruction efforts of Heifer Project, then a Church of the Brethren program, and the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, with the Brethren Service Committee as the recruiting agency for the cowboys. Miller has been gathering stories and artifacts for a documentary photo story, “A Tribute to the Seagoing Cowboys.” She will present programs at Dayton (Va.) Church of the Brethren on April 13; Lititz (Pa.) Church of the Brethren on April 14; the Brethren Village Assembly Hall in Lancaster, Pa., on April 15; the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, Pa., on April 19; Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold, Ohio, on May 29; East Chippewa Church of the Brethren in Orrville, Ohio, on May 31; Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kan., on June 9; and West Des Moines (Iowa) United Methodist Church on June 11. Additional information is available at or 574-658-4147.

— Daniel Lafayette “Lafie” Wolfe, a member of Harmony Church of the Brethren in Myersville, Md., celebrated his 104th birthday on March 14. “We praise God for his good mind and health,” said pastor Tracy Wiser.

7) A reflection: Eight people were baptized….

Eight people were baptized in the Eder River in 1708. Eight more, all dressed in white, were baptized in a Caribbean river on a recent Sunday morning, March 15. Still standing in the river, pastor Ariel Rosario noted the historical and spiritual connection between these eight and the original eight Brethren.

The connection prompted me to imagine Alexander Mack standing with us on that muddy riverbank in the Dominican Republic, a perplexed look in his eyes and an immensely pleased smile on his face as he said, “Not in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate Brethren like this in such a place.”

The music on the river bank would sound familiar to most Brethren. The old gospel hymns were sung in Spanish and with drums, of course. The spiritual connection would be obvious. The all-important, wise, and time-tested baptismal commitment to follow Jesus was being reaffirmed again in the baptism of these new believers.

From there, the connections may seem to unravel. The baptismal group returned to their little rented store-front church, where one couldn’t help but be dazzled by the fresh coat of Caribbean bright pumpkin-mustard paint. More shocking was a slip on the part of the youthful painters who incorrectly and in bold letters wrote the name of the church as “Iglesia Pentecostal de los Hermanos la Vid Verdera” (Pentecostal True Vine Church of the Brethren). “Pentecostal” isn’t part of the church’s name and doesn’t belong there. Or does it? This particular congregation is without doubt one of the most influenced by Pentecostalism. That also makes it one of the liveliest, noisiest, and most spirited groups among the Brethren in the DR–and they wash each others’ feet!

Freshly received into the denomination as a congregation and just three years old, this vibrant new church plant covers 100 percent of its ministry expenses from its own offerings. Average attendance is growing toward 200. These members who lift hands, dance, sway, and shout praises in the Spirit are also organizing a community “adopt a street” project to tackle the problem of litter in their neighborhood.

The influence of Pentecostalism is pervasive in Latino culture. Some might think that the Brethren and Pentecostal movements are like oil and water, impossible to mix, but others respectfully disagree. Years ago when we began working in cross-cultural ministry, we received helpful guidance from some wise Puerto Rican Brethren. They cautioned us about the type of Pentecostalism that is overly emotional, legalistic, petty, and frankly divisive. But there is within the core of the movement a socially progressive, open-minded, joyful spirit.

We wonder if the Pentecostal influence among Hispanic Brethren may invite those of other ethnic backgrounds to find ways to reconnect with the Pietist side of our faith heritage. There is one reference at least that suggests the early Brethren arising from the Pietist movement may have been a bit boisterous themselves in worship. “In 1750, a Pietist leader identified as J.B.S. visited Germantown, Pa., and describes four meeting houses there. Of the Brethren he writes, ‘Their meetings are zealous and their preaching and praying often take place with great clamor, as if their God were hard of hearing. One hymn chases another as if they lacked (inner) silence…’” (“The Brethren in Colonial America,” Donald Durnbaugh, p. 124).

Americans who come to the DR often find themselves, as I imagined Alexander Mack that day on the riverbank, both perplexed by and immensely pleased to see what God is doing here. It is a joy to see Dominican brothers and sisters finding more and more spiritual and historical connections with the Brethren movement, and at the same time developing unique ways of living out the core spiritual values of our heritage and faith.

US Brethren also often rediscover their own hunger for an intimate relationship with God and a joyful faith of the heart. How many of us long to have our hearts, “strangely warmed” by the presence of the Spirit, as Wesley experienced it? How many of us find it both a bit embarrassing and yet wonderfully liberating to clap our hands and maybe even swing our hips, just ever so little, in joyful worship?

It is challenging to both cherish the treasure of what has been familiar and meaningful to us, and to be stretched by the best of what we see in others. Pastors Ariel and Elena Rosario are in their own unique way “dyed in the wool” Brethren. They express a sense of profound connection spiritually and relationally with the Brethren in the US and around the world. These connections and differences challenge, unsettle, and enrich us all as we seek to follow Jesus together.

— Irvin Heishman serves as co-coordinator of the Church of the Brethren mission in the Dominican Republic, along with his wife, Nancy Heishman.

8) Erwin church demonstrates how to keep your faith.

When a devastating fire struck at the heart of Erwin’s First Church of the Brethren last June, it would have been understandable if members of the congregation had stumbled and lost their faith.

But they did not. In fact, they took their trials and tribulations and strengthened their resolve. On March 15, members broke ground on a new building to replace the one destroyed when lightning struck the steeple on that fateful day.

Members have long said that the building is not the church–meaning that the “church” consists of the people who worship. It’s obvious, then, that the people who make up the First Church of the Brethren have kept their faith alive, and they have, in turn, been an example to our whole community.

Adversity can bring us down, but it’s true–as this congregation has shown us–that you can find renewal and strength in tough times. God’s hand, it seems, has been strong and steady.

— Mark A. Stevens is publisher of the “Erwin Record” newspaper. This editorial appeared in the newspaper on March 24, and is reprinted here with permission. Go to to find the piece online.

9) The Cross.

The large wooden cross that sits out in front of the Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteer house in Arabi, La., has a story behind it, according to project consultant Mary Mueller.

It was a gift from a man who had been quite wealthy. He had two large boats. They both were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, but he had taken scraps from them and made crosses. The back sides of the crosses were rough and worn, like the damaged boat, but the fronts were sanded, finished, and beautiful walnut wood.

His comment was, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh.” Mary explains to the volunteers that, like this man, they are turning the bad (wood) into something beautiful (a cross) by rebuilding the city and the lives of the people there.

— Kelly Richter is a Brethren Disaster Ministries volunteer from Southern Ohio District. This reflection is reprinted from the Brethren Disaster Ministries “Bridges”newsletter.

Newsline is produced by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford, director of news services for the Church of the Brethren, or 800-323-8039 ext. 260. Ed Groff, Bekah Houff, Jeff Lennard, David McKellip, Glen Sargent, Tracy Wiser, Jane Yount contributed to this report. Newsline appears every other Wednesday, with other special issues sent as needed. The next regularly scheduled issue is set for April 22. Newsline stories may be reprinted if Newsline is cited as the source. For more Brethren news and features, subscribe to “Messenger” magazine, call 800-323-8039 ext. 247.

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