What Do Victims of Natural Disasters Need? A Survivor Shares

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Jesus wept.  
John 11:35
 

Yesterday, I got ten times mores hits on my blog than usual  –  all because of someone’s tweet – – someone who should know better – but who said something so shocking that people came to see the tweet for themselves  (the tweet had later been deleted).  Quite a few people came to defend John Piper here.  They told us we weren’t reading it in context.  Others mentioned we are calling Piper, “Satan in disguise”, “truthfully hateful”, that the comments were a “blog stoning.”  Wow. We were being uncharitable. One person told me on another blog that those who interpreted his message in an uncharitable way should repent and apologize to Piper.  I don’t think so.

small__513980899A large majority of Piper’s defenders on my blog and other blogs backed him up because they believed his message in Job – – that the message was the right one and one that the victims really needed to hear.  It was the truth and God’s Word is where we should turn to amidst tragedies.  But somewhere in all of that, there was a huge disconnect.   The message caused hurt feelings.   It was not comforting.

Who gets to decide what victims need to hear, Piper and his defenders?  Why do they get to decide that their agenda, method of offering help is the right one?   I even read comments like, “yes, Job’s message is the hard truth.”  Really?  What is that!?  Is this the time to shove theology down someone’s throat?  If their godly truth comment is going to hit a brick wall, what use is it?

I remember a time when someone told me the hard truth.  I was 6 weeks pregnant and started bleeding.  I went to the Naval clinic and the medic confirmed my worst nightmare  – that I was in the process of miscarrying the baby.  The words that the medic said have never left me some 20 years later. He told me I was having a “spontaneous abortion.”  I could hardly understand what he was saying because my brain was thinking “baby” and why was this dude talking about “abortions?”  I wasn’t thinking of having an abortion.  I wanted a baby.  In my emotional state, I forgot for a split second that the medical term for miscarriage was “spontaneous abortion.”   I said, “spontaneous abortion?”  And he replied, “Yes, the baby died.”  Finally my brain caught up to him.  And I cried. . . . .   My baby had really died?   . . . . . As in no more baby?   . . . . .Gone?  Just like that?  . . . . . .  That’s it?  . . . . There’s nothing he could do?  My head was spinning.

He told me the truth, but it didn’t register.  And when it finally did register, there was no compassion.  It was just hard and difficult truth – unbearable truth – truth that left me reeling. I felt completely alone even though there was a live, breathing person standing right next to me.  How can that be?  Because of no compassion.

A pastor’s job is to tell the truth and to have compassion.  They are to model their life after Christ.  Christ met people where they were, in their pain, and dealt with their most pressing needs first before anything else:  Compassion with Shoes On

Many of you are aware that Rick Warren’s adult son recently committed suicide.  Rick has been brutally transparent with his feelings on Twitter.  His honesty has been very frank.  Look at the tweet.  It hadn’t posted 20 minutes and  already had 462 retweets and 303 favorites.  He really understands pain as he is walking through the grieving process.  He knows what works and what doesn’t work.  We can learn much from this tweet:

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Yesterday, we had the opportunity to learn from someone else.  Mandy commented that she had experienced a devastating tornado, Hurricane Ike.  Many people don’t hang around to read comments and I feel that Mandy’s comments deserved to be put in a post.  Let’s learn from Mandy, someone who knows, how to really help victims of natural disasters.

Just out of curiosity… How many of y’all have personally been through a natural disaster and lost your home, your belongings, your community, your life as you know it?

I have. I lost my family home to Hurricane Ike. To someone who is deep in the midst of the trauma of a natural disaster, Piper’s first tweet is a slap in the face. I don’t care what his intention was or his background or the overall message of Job. To quote Job 1:19 in these circumstances was just plain wrong. I know that everyone here upholds the basic command of “respect the victim” when it comes to those who have experienced any type of abuse, whether its spiritual, physical, emotional or sexual in nature. We need to extend that command to ALL victims, including those who have been affected by natural disasters. Please speak words of comfort, of solace, of love, of compassion to us. Now is not the time for deep theological discussions. Now is not the time to find ways to defend men whose messages hurt the victims. Now IS the time to ask “How can I help? What do you need? How may I best support you and your community? May I buy gift cards for your family?”

Please everyone stop your in-fighting. Your spiritual leaders should be pouring out love and compassion- demand it of them. Now is the perfect time to live out Mark 12:31 “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

Here is another comment:

JoeJoe and Jeff Brown, thank you. You get it. I am dealing with a lot of flashbacks right now and that tweet does not help. It surely does not help those who are in the middle of the destruction. If Piper had wanted to reference the entire book of Job, he should have. To quote just that verse was incredibly hurtful and the wrong thing to do.

I am begging all of you out there, please put yourselves in the places of those affected. Look at it from their perspective. Then ask yourselves, what is the appropriate response? How will my words and my actions be viewed by the victims? If there is the potential that any words or actions may hurt someone, find another way to express yourself. I have been the person sitting by my computer, watching the images of my devastated hometown, hoping against hope that things are okay. I have been the person searching the lists of the missing and hoping my friends and loved ones are safe. I have driven through an entire missing neighborhood and I have cried at the devastation. I have done all of this with the cruel words of strangers playing through my head, reminding me over and over that they possess some supernatural knowledge of God’s role in the tragedy and the cause of it. I know what its like to grieve with your neighbors, to beg insurance companies for assistance and be denied. And all the while my church home in college couldn’t be bothered to help beyond finding a Bible to replace the one my brother lost. That was the thing that hurt the most – the lack of love shown by my fellow believers.

This comment was so good:

Julie Anne, thank you. You get it. So many people don’t. So many times I was told by fellow believers “You need to smile more. God doesn’t like it when you frown. You still have your family and your health (which is a huge lie – everybody knew that my body was in bad shape). You shouldn’t be upset- it’s just material things. Don’t worry about it – everything will work out. As long as God is glorified, nothing else matters.”  The list goes on. What people need to understand is that you cannot tell someone in this situation not to worry about things. You cannot force them to smile. You cannot offer vague promises that things will eventually get better. You cannot offer random Bible verses with a prolonged explanation of how it applies to the situation. You can hug them. You can listen. You can actively help them by meeting practical needs. Meet them where they are and love them where they are. Remind them that Jesus cried too and there is no shame in it. Walk through the stages of grief but don’t rush it. If need be, suggest professional counseling. Let them tell their stories as often as it takes until they can do so with peace.

There was one couple who taught me about a gracious response in the face of tragedy. My professor and mentor, Dr. B., asked me to share my story with him and his wife. They listened and asked questions and looked at the pictures of the devastation. They told me to stop listening to my church friends and leaders and that it was okay not to smile. It was okay to be mad at God. It was okay to ask Him the hard questions. And it was okay to still love Him even when I had lost everything. I poured out my entire story to them, even told how I couldn’t afford to buy food and necessities for my family cats now that they were living with me. When I got back to my apartment later that day I found 100 pounds of cat food and 100 pounds of cat litter on my doorstep with a note that said “Never forget how strong you are. We love you. -The B Family”. I broke down and cried for hours. For once the burden was lifted off my shoulders. I no longer had to live up to lofty standards set by my religious community. I didn’t have to search for hidden meanings in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy. And I didn’t have to skip buying groceries for myself to feed my cats.

There are some here who are so intent on defending Mr. Piper that they have forgotten that his words still hurt victims. Please learn from my story and focus more on ways you can show love to those who were affected. Never let a focus on theology or doctrine distract you from the need to simply love your neighbor. It might help to read Pastor Wade Burleson’s blog post on this subject.

*Julie Anne, I’m sorry for writing such long comments here. I hope I haven’t taken over your blog. :)

No, Mandy, thank YOU.  I think you taught us a thing or two.  Now may we be better ambassadors for Christ and truly love others in the midst of tragedy.

By the way, I encourage my readers to read Wade Burleson’s excellent article Mandy mentioned.  He’s there in Oklahoma and his church is being the hands and feet of Christ right now.  God bless them!

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24 comments on “What Do Victims of Natural Disasters Need? A Survivor Shares

  1. Exactly. What victims need most immediately after a tragedy is compassion. There are different ways to show compassion, and sometimes the best way to show it is to simply say, “I’m sorry for your hurt and loss. I’m right here if you want to talk. I’m praying for comfort for you.”

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  2. I guess I will never understand WHY people are so hell bent on telling others HOW they should grieve, mourn, react, feel, etc. You don’t tell people that! You shut up and listen, and then find compassionate ways of helping them move on. Sometimes YES all you do is listen, and heck maybe cry with them. You empathize.

    Go PREACH to the wall if you feel the need to PREACH! The wall won’t care!

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  3. I have been deleting Piper comments without even looking at them because the horse was beaten to death by the first 20 comments or so. Why waste time and energy on one man’s conviction if it isn’t going to accomplish anything productive? I guess I feel you can liken it to a mate who thinks they can change their spouse and waste a lifetime trying. Missing God’s real plan for that trying. Really, only God is able to change men’s hearts. Mind you, I have never heard of the man before and I think that though many have taken offense to his comment, it could, easily, have been taken in a different light alltogether. Not knowing him or his heart I would not know, ofcourse, but, I believe one could have surmised that he took that Scripture because it involved “wind”. Wind caused a man the ultimate loss – his children. But God…..was able to, and did, restore and heal, plus provided forgiveness for the ‘evil’ friends. Or, one could say Piper stood in the place of those ‘evil’ friends. Either way, lets go on to some more productive business, like putting away child molesters. I know everyone on this earth has suffered loss (yes, I do know) and then suffered, what I have come to term “The Second Offense”. Meaning, the one(s) who do not validate the weight of your loss or your pain. The ones who do nothing as in the book of James except for mouth the ‘proper’ things or, even worse, those who make you feel like you were the cause or the blame for such loss, like Job’s friends. I, for one, am done with this Piper guy. He may have judged himself already. Sometimes we make assessments without knowing the whole truth on questionable things. For that matter (but it really takes this in a whole different area, and I don’t want to stray here) I thought Rick Warren made a most ridiculous comment right after his son died, “We were together Friday night and we had a great time”. Now, how could that be true? Somehow, somewhere, someone missed something. But, as I said, I am not going to open a whole new subject here, I certainly don’t mean to judge Rick, I am merely trying to drive home a point. I will say that I have been to Rick’s church.

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  4. Adriana,

    What is the point that you are trying to drive home? Move on? Get over it? This is just a distraction? Grow up? Quit crying or I will give you a reason to cry? Stand up straight, tuck in your shirt, tie your shoes?

    Ed

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  5. Julie Anne, thank you so much for allowing me to comment here. Just to clarify, I lost my home in Hurricane Ike. There are many elements in a hurricane, including tornadoes. While a tornado did not destroy my house (storm surge did), I suspect that a tornado wiped out the neighborhood where a relative used to live. We had kept the house in the family but all that was left was a foundation and 2 tiles from the siding. But the house next door was still standing. That is the nature of tornadoes and other natural disasters – you never know what will be spared. And it is absolutely heartbreaking when a bulldozer goes down your street plowing all of the destroyed possessions from your neighborhood into a giant dump truck. That “trash” was full of priceless memories that can never be replaced. The journey of the survivors is just beginning. They will need support for a long time to come. For the rest of their lives, everything will be divided into two categories: before the tornado and after the tornado.

    To all of the new readers here, please stop defending religious leaders. They can do it themselves Learn to stop and ask, does his/her message come across clearly as is without further explanation? Does it cause needless pain? Is is helpful in the intended situation? If someone is hurt by the message, what is the correct response? Your defenses of Mr. Piper are just as damaging as his original tweet. Mr. Warren got it right. Show up, shut up and show love. Oh, and meet practical needs first. A case of water bottles and a bag of groceries goes a long ways towards healing. A physical demonstration of love is one of the most powerful things you can ever do for another human being.

    Since my own loss, I have learned the power of saying “I don’t know.” It is so much better to say that than to claim to understand the causes of a tragedy. Some things are a mystery to us. What is not a mystery is the fact that love heals. I am begging all of you to love your neighbor as yourself. You will never lose when you simply love.

    JA, I am sending you a friend request on facebook. My initials are CR and I am wearing a purple dress in my picture. I can share more on fb than I can here. Thank you for everything you do here on your blog. You have created a safe haven here.

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  6. When my 3 year old daughter was diagnosed with malignant brain tumor, I needed friends, not a lecture on theological implications. One of the dearest memories I have is sitting in my daughter’s hospital room,holding her while she slept. A man from my Bible study came in and leaned against a wall, silently for a few minutes.

    He then said “I don’t know what to say but I want you to know that I care and want to say or do anything that will help you get through this.” I remember this 20 years later. I also got a lot of Scripture repeated to me but it was this man’s quiet support that gave me strength.

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  7. Mandy, MAY 22, 2013 @ 9:50 AM wrote:

    “To all of the new readers here, please stop defending religious leaders. They can do it themselves.”

    Absolutely! If they can’t defend their own comments by themselves, then they’re in the wrong line of work. Besides, these so-called “leaders” aren’t in it to minister to the suffering, they’re in it for the publicity.

    Julie Anne, you and Rachel Held Evans were both far more charitable towards Piper’s bile that I would have been. To me, John Piper is just more living truth that Thomas Jefferson was right in his assessment of Calvinism.

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  8. Adriana here is another “sweet” tweet by Piper

    Be done with sentimental views of the love of God. “Behold, I am watching over them for disaster, not for good.” Jer. 44:27
    John Piper

    First this verse is totally taken out of context!
    Second, I am tired of these men who do not take responsibility for their words or action, but instead we idolize and put up on pedestals.
    Third, I do not ever see where Jesus rebuked others who were experiencing struggle and hardship with this kind of response. So what makes Piper ABOVE doing what Christ did not?

    thank you Mandy for your timely posts

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  9. Also, Piper would not be getting this response if ONLY he did not open his big mouth. “Wrong words bear consequences”- or stated this way “stop twittering and tweeting away everything you feel, it could come back to bite”

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  10. Julie Anne, as I read the previous post on Piper’s tweet(s) and the exploding comments, I kept thinking about the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10. The parable is prefaced by an exchange between Jesus and a religious scholar (“an expert in the law”). The expert quizzes Jesus on how to gain eternal life but appears uncomfortable with Jesus’ response, which emphasizes love of God and neighbor, and asks a theologically framed question. Jesus’ answer is a story in which the actions of love matter and the theology of love is irrelevant. As Jesus tells it, the Samaritan didn’t discuss his theological differences with the Jew (and they had them) or frame his help in a theological context. He just, to use a phrase from the late Rich Mullins, “let mercy lead.” If Jesus approved of the Samaritan’s response to disaster, that’s the way we should respond, isn’t it? (And I’m speaking to myself as much or more than to others.)

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  11. People like John Piper who haven’t experienced pain and hardship seem to lack compassion when it comes to others’ suffering and should just keep quiet. People like Rick Warren really get it.

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  12. Mandy: I added Hurricane Ike to the article. I knew that from your story, but it’s better to make it more clear. Thank you.

    This: For the rest of their lives, everything will be divided into two categories: before the tornado and after the tornado.

    That is very profound and makes complete sense.

    BTDT: Great CNN article. A lot of us seem to be saying the same thing. It’s just not the right time for a theology lesson. Give the people some food, shelter, and water, ya know?

    B.K. Cobb: Welcome to the blog. Your comment is excellent – so, so good!! Once again, it is pretty simple, Jesus is our model to follow.

    Trust4himonly: I missed that tweet. Ick. ick.

    Ed: I’m glad you asked Adriana those questions because I was wondering the same thing. I’m confused by the comment and would like to get more understanding.

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  13. Piper now claims that he tweeted of Job 1:19 & Job 1:20 because the message of Job’s trust in God during suffering brought comfort to him personally, and he says he removed them when he realized that others did not feel the same when reading the tweets. Some have said that Piper seems to lack empathy — I don’t know the man so I wouldn’t venture a guess on that, but I can understand why people were bothered by his tweets (especially those disagree his theology) and I’m glad he at least removed them.

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  14. Well, this is a difficult comment for me to write, as I’m having to put on my suicide survivor’s hat (it was my father who committed suicide) and relate my thoughts from that time of my life. While I’ve tried to be as sensitive as possible, but if I’ve missed something and come across that way, I do apologize.

    There is a time for us to speak theology into the lives of those who are suffering, and to refuse to do so is to ignore every instance of how the Bible addresses sorrowful situations. But it’s the height of difficulty to speak the truth in love (see Job’s friends, John Piper, or any other number of examples) to those who are in emotional shock (particularly as we live in a culture that believes it better to be in a house of partying than a house of mourning). I appreciate very much the efforts of my pastor and friends who were able to comfort me in such a way, reminding me of God’s goodness in that dark time (as my father was an unbeliever). But it is a skill I’ve found to be very rare among our more famous leaders today. Too often we have valued those who are able to speak the truth clearly, but without the ability to apply it in hard situations.

    To those who are affected by these recent events, I pray that God use this time to show His mercy and grace to you. I know of a number of people already packing up to head your way to be a means of that grace.

    On our end (those who were not directly affected by this tragedy), we need to compare our responses with Jesus’ answer to the crowds in Luke 13 :1-5 (as a number of people think that these tragic events happened within a short time of the accounts being related to Jesus, though that is speculation). If Jesus said those words to us today in the midst of tragedy, what would our response be? If we criticize Him (again, assuming that He said this shortly after the tower fell, and Pilate’s murder of the Galileans), might I suggest that we have allowed our responses to tragedy and tough situations be dictated by the world, and not by Scripture?

    Tragic situations are tough for us to minister to, but if we do not base our words and actions on the word of God, we only disservice those affected in the long run. Those actions are threefold: 1. Seek to be tangible signs of God’s love to people going through loss and tragedy, 2. We look at ourselves and recognize that we need Christ as the balm for our own souls, to heal us from our tragedies, losses and struggles. 3. Apply the gospel to the situation, pointing people to Christ as their hope.

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  15. Ed, the point is that a horse is beaten to death a hundred times over, over one (maybe stupid) comment a guy made. And, the point is that some take comments and build whole ‘theologies’ out of them as is done on this one comment someone “tweeted”. Let alone the stand as judge, so many here haven taken. You apparently missed the fact that I did not take sides and merely offered two possible different views. And for that I am childish. Whatever you wish.

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  16. Adriana,

    The fact that Piper is a retired leader indicates that he has a responsibility to be clear, and concise in what he states, with no ambiguity, no room for being misunderstood, etc. And, from what I understand, Piper’s is a Calvinist, and therefore his doctrine drives his posts indicating that God is the cause of all calamities. Well, with all of the defenders of Piper, they all believe the same, in that God killed children, for his good will and pleasure. It is a form of ABUSE that you seemed to have missed, and ANY KIND OF ABUSE needs to be beaten worse than a dead horse. The comment that he made was not stupid to him, as he believes that nonsense. But for those of us who recognize spiritual abuse, well, there is a pattern.

    Ed

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  17. Yes, Adriana, Ed makes a good point. The point is that there is a context that needs to be recognized here. It is not just a matter of one single tweet, there is a whole belief system behind it and that is what the community here is responding to, yes reacting to. There are many valid comments when seen through the lens of the context.

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  18. Barb, which “point” of Ed’s are you referring to? The one offering violence because, he thinks, another doesn’t agree with him or, the name calling because he thinks he’s disagreed with? I do not see any belief “system” in one (stupid) comment and all I am saying is that I will not judge the man for that one stupid comment just because there are faulty belief systems out there and, BECAUSE, as I said, I do not know the man, or anything about him. But no, it does not feel like the spiritual abuse I have endured and witnessed. I KNOW this: One man is being vilified over one comment and another praised over one comment, on what context? The context of that we assume something or, the context of what we know? Doesn’t my last sentence tell you anything?

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  19. Adriana,
    You admitted that you had no clue who Piper was/is. So, what is your point, again? Therefore, you have no idea what his belief system is. And it isn’t JUST one stupid comment, it is a pattern of a multitude of stupid comments. We can gather the context of ones post based on his belief system. Study Calvinism before you think that we are unjustly vilifying him.

    Ed

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  20. Julie Anne: Thank you for this post and for Mandy’s testimony. I can’t believe the fighting within the Reformed community over this. John Piper’s tweets were misplaced and wrong. Even Doug Wilson has a post up on this matter, and you can imagine what he says.It’s just getting worse and worse. I have had to defriend people who keep the fight going. I can’t even get on Facebook it’s so bad. It’s as if they don’t understand that the timing is all wrong, and are using this tragedy as a soapbox. Meanwhile, funerals are beginning today for the children who died in the tornado, volunteers are finishing cleaning the cemetery and we are expecting more storms around Enid through OKC and Moore which will slow down cleanup and repair. People are coming out of their shock and some are coming back from vacation to find their homes gone.

    There is a lot to do and some would rather sit and keep shoving this in our face instead of being humble and saying “I’m sorry.” Denny Burke’s response is to post Al Mohler’s response to why this happened and God’s Sovereignty. I believe in God’s sovereignty, but not in the Sodom/Gomorah way. We do not know why this happened. It happened. We are to do as you have said here. Yet, this tornado has turned into another theological brawl. I want to shout to them Enough! But I and others did that and it got worse. So, I am going to be weeping, praying, helping where I can in giving donations and ignore Pat Robertson and the Reformed community and pray that they see this is not doing the very thing they are preaching and pushing down throats. It is not glorifying God. Sorry to be so long, but I guess I feel safe here and have unloaded. Thank you again WW and Julie, Mandy, craigvick and so many others here.

    This storm missed us, but not our neighbors. We are heartbroken. Pray as there are more storms with rain(no tornado predicted) in our area and around Moore tonight and through the day. God Bless You.

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  21. Debbie Kaufman,
    I’m so sorry this tragedy has touched you so personally. My heart breaks for the friends and family members of every child (and adult) who will soon be laid to rest. I pray God will give you all physical strength and strength of spirit to endure what lies ahead. This will be a long process for those who have lost their homes and belongings. I pray it will draw your communities closer together, and that God’s love will flow through you all to ease the pain. Piper’s tweets (and others like his) are just the clanging cymbals. We won’t be hearing much from God’s people who are there in Oklahoma meeting the needs, because they are busy serving and loving in tangible ways.

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  22. Debbie: Thank you for your “keepin’-it-real” comment. See, you know. You touched on the heart of the tragedy, death, the pain, seeing the homes completely wiped out, etc. We as Christians need to meet people where they are, not where we want them to be. Prayers are going out to you and the people of Oklahoma as you sift through the rubble: physical, spiritual, and emotional. Hugs!

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