Un Dios Que Escucha

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sermón dado de El Shadai DC, Georgetown South, Manassas, Virginia, April 28, 2019 (English translation).

Preludio

Buenos tarde. Bienvenido a la iglesia El Shadai DC. Para aquellos que no me conocen, me llama Stephen W. Hiemstra. Soy un autor cristiano y vivo con mi esposa en Centreville, Virginia. Tenemos tres hijos crecido.

Esta tarde continuamos nuestro estudio del cielo en la tierra. Porque somos creado en la imagen de Dios, querremos hacer todas las cosas que vemos que Dios esta haciendo. Como dice la biblia, servimos un Dios que escucha. Siguiendo la sugestión de Pastor Julio, voy a enfocar por el ejemplo de la vida de mi padre—el otro Stephen Hiemstra como yo lo introduce frecuentemente.

Invocación

Vamos a orar.

Padre misericordioso:

Toda la alabanza y el honor son tuyos, porque escuchas nuestras oraciones, nos consuelas en nuestras aflicciones y nos rescatas de la muerte misma.

Confesamos que no somos dignos de tus afectos y te agradecemos por enseñarnos a amar.

Dibújanos ahora a ti mismo. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, abres nuestros corazones, iluminas nuestras mentes y fortaleces nuestras manos en tu servicio. En el precioso nombre de Jesucristo, Amén

Escritura

El texto de hoy viene del libro del Éxodo 22:21-27. Escuchen a la palabra de Dios.

No maltrates ni oprimas a los extranjeros, pues también tú y tu pueblo fueron extranjeros en Egipto. No explotes a las viudas ni a los huérfanos, porque si tú y tu pueblo lo hacen, y ellos me piden ayuda, yo te aseguro que atenderé a su clamor: arderá mi furor y los mataré a ustedes a filo de espada. ¡Y sus mujeres se quedarán viudas, y sus hijos se quedarán huérfanos! … Si se queja ante mí, yo atenderé a su clamor, pues soy un Dios compasivo.

 La palabra del Señor. Gracias a Dios.

Introducción

Muchas veces cuento un chiste que cuando hablamos a Dios las secularistas llámala oración, pero cuando Dios nos habla llámenla psicosis.

Mientras cristianos son acostumbrada a Dios que escucha, uno de los atributos más asombroso de Dios es que el nos escucha (2X). Por ejemplo, en el libro de jueces, leemos:

Los israelitas hicieron lo que ofende al SEÑOR; se olvidaron del SEÑOR su Dios, y adoraron a las imágenes de Baal y de Aserá. El SEÑOR se enfureció contra Israel a tal grado que los vendió a Cusán Risatayin, rey de Aram Najarayin, a quien estuvieron sometidos durante ocho años. Pero clamaron al SEÑOR, y él hizo que surgiera un libertador, Otoniel hijo de Quenaz, hermano menor de Caleb. Y Otoniel liberó a los israelitas. El Espíritu del SEÑOR vino sobre Otoniel, y así Otoniel se convirtió en caudillo de Israel y salió a la guerra. El SEÑOR entregó a Cusán Risatayin, rey de Aram, en manos de Otoniel, quien prevaleció sobre él. (Jdg 3:7-10 NVI)

En este pasaje vemos un modelo conocido como el Ciclo Deuteronomio que tiene cuatro partes: la gente peca, se caen en sujeción, llaman al Señor, y Dios provee un salvador (Deut 30:1-3).  Llaman al Señor se parece como una oración extraña, pero la punta es que Dios escucha a personas que sufra, aunque sea bien merecido. Es como escribió el Apóstol Pablo: Pero Dios demuestra su amor por nosotros en esto: en que cuando todavía éramos pecadores, Cristo murió por nosotros.” (Rom 5:8 NVI)

Este ejemplo del Ciclo Deuteronomio que vemos en el libro de jueces es especialmente interesante por que leemos también: “En aquella época no había rey en Israel; cada uno hacía lo que le parecía mejor.” (2X; Jdg 17:6 NVI) Este tiempo fue en muchas maneras como nuestros hoy día. Y sabemos que maltratamiento de inmigrantes, viudas, y huérfanos puedan evocar el furor de Dios. (2X)

Historia de la Familia

Estés pasajes tienen una significa especial para mi familia. Por que me padre trabajaba toda su vida profesional por programas de nutrición y alimentario por el departamento de agricultura de estados unidos (se dice USDA). Mi padre trabajaba como economista para programas como cupones de alimentos (food stamps), almuerzos para las escuelas (school lunch programs) y mujeres, infantes y niños (women, infant, and children—WIC). Mi padre fue conocido del padre del programa WIC (father of the WIC program) porque el ayudaba a empezar este programa. Los beneficios mayores de estos programas fueron inmigrantes, viudas, y huérfanos.

Hoy día mi padre tiene ochenta y ocho anos de edad, sufra de alzhéimer, y vive con mi madre en McLean, Virginia. En 2016 publicí su memoria con titulo: Mis Viajes Durante La Vida (My Travels Through Life)[1] antes escribiendo mi propia memoria para introduce otra gente a mi padre y aprendo por mi misma su historia.

La familia Hiemstra vinó a estados unidos en 1847 de Holanda y hablábamos holandeses por más o menos cien anos en la casa y en la iglesia. En 1953 cuando nací la iglesia de la familia empezó a hablar ingles por la primera vez. Mi abuelo se negó a ensenar holandeses a sus hijos porque el querró que ellos identificar como  norteamericanos y porque el creó que los holandeses en Holanda no más creían en Dios.

Mi padre creció en pobreza por una finca pequeña en el sud de Iowa. Hasta la segunda guerra mundial mi abuelo trabajaba la finca solamente con caballos y la casa no tuvo agua corriendo o baño adentro. Mi padre y sus hermanos atenían una escuela pequeña en el campo. Más tarde mi padre graduó de Iowa State University como uno de los primeros en la familia.

Mi padre fue un estudiante brillante, estudiaba duro, y pagó para sus estudios por medio de una beca a estar un oficial de la fuerza aérea (Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)). Después graduación la fuerza aérea mandó que mi padre sirvió en Corea. Más tarde completó sus estudios en la universidad de California en Berkeley. Recibió su doctorado en 1960 y la familia movieron a Virginia donde empezó a trabajar con USDA.

Aunque no teníamos mucho dinero cuando crecía, nuestras necesidades se satisfacían, teníamos nuestra fe, y nos teníamos mutuamente. En cada ciudad donde vivíamos, encontrábamos una otra iglesia que nos recibió.

Durante muchos años en USDA mi padre viajaba para empezar programas nuevos de cupones. Gastó mucho tiempo, por ejemplo, en Puerto Rico donde dos de tres personas hoy día reciben cupones. Cuando yo empezó mis estudios graduado más tarde en Puerto Rico, conocí algas colegas de mi padre por la isla.

Hace un par de años, aprendí que mi abuelo como joven quería ser pastor, pero no pudó pagar para sus estudios y se hizó granjero. Mi padre quedó trabajando en la agricultura mientras mi tío, John, hizó pastor. En mi caso, fui economista agricultura temprano en mi vida y más tarde terminé mis estudios en seminario completando ambos de las ambiciones de mi abuelo. Como joven fui muy cerca de mi abuelo, pero no supe sus ambiciones hasta después su muerto.

Final

Por fin.

Cuando fui a publicar la memoria de mi padre fui sorprendo que el no habló mucho del impacto de su fe por su trabajo. El es un hombre de pocas palabras. Pero toda su vida visitó la iglesia cada domingo y soportó la iglesia con un interese especialmente en misiones del mundo. Y fuimos bendecido mucho como una familia por su ejemplo. 

Adoramos a un Dios que escucha a nuestros llamados para misericordia y también escucha a las aspiraciones de nuestros corazones. Como el profeta Jeremías dice:

¨Porque yo sé muy bien los planes que tengo para ustedes —afirma el SEÑOR—, planes de bienestar y no de calamidad, a fin de darles un futuro y una esperanza. Entonces ustedes me invocarán, y vendrán a suplicarme, y yo los escucharé.¨ (Jer 29:11-12 NVI)

Esta promesa es real hoy día como siempre en la vida para aquellos que recíbela como mi familia.

Oración

Oramos.

Padre santo, Gracias por tu perdón y por tu presencia en nuestras vidas cotidiarias. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, darnos el fuerzo para escuchar más intensivo a las personas alrededor nos cada día. En el preciso nombre de Jesucristo. Amén

Notas

[1] Stephen J. Hiemstra. 2016. My Travels Through Life. Centreville, Virginia: T2Pneuma Publishers LLC (Amazon.com)

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Senior Year Transition

ShipOfFools_web_10042015“Behold, I have set before you an open door,
which no one is able to shut.” (Rev 3:8)

Senior Year Transition

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

My senior year in college at Iowa State University (1975/76), I thought that I was bullet proof and signed up for 18 hours, including graduate level micro and macro economics classes. Other classes, like economic history, computer science, and statistics, provided important background for later studies and work in my career. Outside of class, I had a steady girl-friend—one of the few—in college, and I worked in the cafeteria in Wilson Hall, where I sometimes felt out of place.

For example, my floor in Wilson Hall had a successful basketball team that frequently went out to practice and played a game once a week. Although later during my time in Germany I was the star of the graduate student basketball team, here playing for Wilson Hall I mostly sat on the bench during games—most of my college buddies had played varsity-level basketball in high school, being from small high schools where everyone was given the opportunity to play. By contrast, because my own high school basketball team  took state champs throughout my high school years, only the most dedicated players made the team. Consequently, I felt out of place sitting on the bench while my team beat other teams.

But I also felt out of place trying to date small town girls. Most students at Iowa State came from Iowa and, because they hoped to remain in the Iowa after graduation, they remained closely tied to high school friends on campus. As an out-of-state student, it was difficult to break into these high school cliques. Unlike the movie stereotypes of rural kids dying to get out of their small towns, these were kids who were intensely loyal to their hometowns and chose careers to make that outcome possible. My cousin in Cedar Rapids, for example, never left Cedar Rapids—even to attend college; my roommate studied computer science, in part, so he could remain in Ames after graduation. Consequently, I felt out of place socially at Iowa State and ended up dating a bright young Iranian girl who I met in one of my economics classes.

My girl friend and I dated for several months, but later broke up because she criticized my car. In my sophomore year, I worked in construction for several months in the summer before transferring to Iowa State and used the money that I earned to buy a used 1967 Volkswagen beetle. I was intensely proud of my beetle, in part, because I had paid for it myself. Being Iranian, she assumed that my family could and should buy me a new and better car while I knew that the gift of a new car was unlikely. Thus, her criticism amounted to a cultural misunderstanding, but at the time this criticism simply cut too deep and we broke up. We remain friends, however, and she went on later to a doctorate and to teach agricultural economics at an important university.

Supporting my interest in international economic development, I took a series of classes in economic history. Although economists often envisioned economic development in terms of dollars saved and invested, the actual experience of economic development was often more of an historical process where key policies either supported productive investment or diverted resources away from useful investment into consumption activities. Understanding the difference was an important theme in economic history, which made it fascinating and helpful in explaining why some rather poor countries prospered while other comparatively rich counties squandered even better opportunities.

My history professor at Iowa State was a rather brilliant, but frustrated[1], professor from Yale University who did not like my term papers and was not particularly interested in explaining why. Actually, he threatened to flunk me if I signed up for the next class in the economic history sequence. After working unsuccessfully to please him with several papers, I went into his office and sat on his desk until he explained the problem. The problem was that I conceived of history as a chronology (or narrative) of events over time, while he saw history as the product of deductive reasoning. According to the deductive method, a paper should state a hypothesis and set out to provide it with historical observations. When I then adopted a deductive method in my next paper, he liked my papers and, in the process, I learned to pay attention to methods of argumentation when I would venture outside of economics to study other fields.

My lesson about focusing on argumentation methods came up again in studying macro-economics. The economics department at Iowa State was well-known for using quantitative methods, but my macro-economics professor preferred an history of thought method of argumentation.[2] The tension between these two methods set him at odds with the department so when he began drumming students out of this class (a common approach among professors trying to minimize their required teaching load) he quickly found himself isolated also from students—a class of over 20 students soon became a class of only 4 students. I soon had the distinction of being the only undergraduate student in the class after he  expressed open disdain for undergraduates generally and reiterated such comments even in private meetings.[3]

Stressful as some of my classes turned out to be, senior year was also physically exhausting and I frequently got only about 4 hours of sleep at night, preferring to catch sleep during dead time during the day. Not being a coffee drinker until much later, I took caffeine pills in a vain attempt to stay awake in the evening. Normally, I would study until eleven p.m. then go jogging to wake up so I could a couple more hours; then, at six a.m. I worked the breakfast shift in the cafeteria.

In the middle of my senior year, I applied to three graduate schools—University of Massachusetts, Iowa State University, and Cornell University, each of which had strong agricultural economic programs, according to my dad. I was offered admission and support at University of Massachusetts, but decided against it. Iowa State admitted me almost immediately, but was slow to offer me financial support. When financial support finally came through, I was assigned to work with a famous, but rather controlling professor. I went to see him several times to try to get to know him, but soon felt uncomfortable with this relationship. When Cornell University later offered me both admission and financial support, I changed my mind and decided to attend Cornell.

By May I had reached a breaking point because of stress and long hours and got sick. When I went to the clinic to get myself checked out, I was not ready to hear the news—I had mononucleosis. I freaked out—my history professor’s assistant just happened to be in the clinic at that moment and ran back to tell him the news—for a full-time student, it might as well have been the plague. Back in the dormitory, my roommate and my friends avoided me leaving me to eat and study by myself. When I told my parents, my dad told me that he had a business trip to Iowa later that month and promised to stop by and to bring me home in about a week. This meant that I had about a week to finish up my remaining classwork.

My remaining classwork turn out to less than expected because Iowa State had a rule that any graduating senior with a B average or better did not need to take final examinations. It was my policy in college to write all my term papers early in the quarter so that I could focus on studying for mid-term and final examinations later in the quarter. Being exempted from final examinations meant that I was essentially finished with my work—all but some FORTRAN programming and a few class projects. Time went by quickly and my father picked me up; we flew home to Maryland; and I spent the next 6 weeks in bed, missing out on graduation ceremonies.

Reference

Johnson, Glenn L. 1986. Research Methodology for Economists: Philosophy and Practice. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.

[1] He was from the east coast and felt that it was a hardship to work in Iowa.
[2] In broad terms, Johnson (1986, viii) classified the different schools of thought in economics as positivism, normativism, pragmaticism, and existentialism.
[3] He later failed to achieve tenure and ended up working for the Federal Reserve.

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Navigators

ShipOfFools_web_10042015Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone
when he falls and has not another to lift him up! (Eccl 4:9-10)

Navigators

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

My first small group consisted of three people—Jon (my best friend), my pastor, and I—who met on Wednesday afternoons in my senior year in high school for pizza and soda to discuss the Book of Romans and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book—The Cost of Discipleship (1995). While I really specifically remember only Bonhoeffer’s comments on cheap grace—

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living, and incarnate (44-45).

—those discussions have grounded my faith and theology ever since.

Part of my grounding came by way of Jon who after college went immediately into seminary and shared his seminary texts with me, which we discussed together. He was, for example, heavily influenced by Karl Barth and, at Jon’s prompting, I read some of Barth’s shorter works, such as Dogmatik im Grundriβ[1] in graduate school. Part of my grounding came more directly from my fascination with Bonhoeffer, which led my ordination committee years later (2010) to describe me both as neo-orthodox[2] and very theological.

Grounded or not, the backstory on our group was less encouraging—at the end of my junior year the church fired our youth director unexpectedly when the senior pastor retired. The assistant pastor attempted to fill the void created by her firing, but was not entertaining enough to keep the youth group together. The group collapsed until only Jon and I were left and, because the youth group was my primary social activity outside of school, I was deeply bitter about it. My bitterness continued for several years and, as a result, I did not attend church when I left home for college. At college, I cannot remember attending a single church event on or off campus at either Indiana University or the College of William and Mary.

My lack of church attendance posed no problem when I was away at school, but it was a source of friction when I returned home for holidays and summer vacation. Because my parents moved from Maryland to Virginia during my freshman year, the friction over church was compounded by a change in churches because the kids my age in Virginia were unfamiliar and hung out in high school clicks to which that I was not a part. Between the clicks and my own bitterness, I had no reason to attend church beyond the prompting of my parents. So Sunday morning we would fight, I would attend out of obligation, and not much came of it until I transferred to Iowa State.

At Iowa State University, I lived in Wilson Hall, which overlooked the dairy farm across the street, and shared a room with Dennis who introduced me to the Navigators,[3] a Christian group on campus and who took me to church on Sundays. The Navigators had picnics and other events around campus which I attended, just to get to know other students. Dennis’ church was nondenominational and, because I did not particularly like it, I began attending Collegiate Presbyterian Church [4] and became a member, not knowing that my parents had attended this same church when my Dad was at Iowa State in the 1950s.

Reflecting on why I was returning to church, I realized that the bitterness that I felt when my home church fired our youth director was directed at the leadership of the church, not God. God’s presence was real to me even when I was not part of any church. As a consequence, atheistic arguments never seemed real to me, even when I repeated them, because I knew God first hand and I knew that I had been blessed when I came to faith. Pascal’s Wager, which was directed at atheists, made perfect sense to me, even when I had turned my back on God.

An important atheistic argument starts with the observation that the existence of God can neither be logically proven or disproven. Atheists focusing on this observation prefer the term, agnostic, which in Greek means “not knowing”, suggesting that there is insufficient evidence to make a faith decision. Pascal used probability theory  to argue that the agnostic argument is logically false in that faith is a fair bet (hence the term, Pascal’s wager)—if God exists and you believe, then you win heaven, but if God does not exist and you believe, then you loose nothing. In other words, faith in God has a positive reward even if the probability of God existing cannot be established—just so long as the probability is a non-zero, positive number.[5]  Of course, if you know first hand that God exists, Pascal’s Wager is no bet at all!

Whether Pascal’s Wager seemed logical or not, I began attending church in my junior year at Iowa State both on campus and off. Unlike at Indiana University, Iowa State was close to my grandparents who frequently hosted me on weekends when they took me to Central Reformed Church in Oskaloosa, Iowa where I had been baptized and where I was always in the company of relatives and friends in Christ.

References

Barth, Karl. 1977. Dogmatik im Grundriβ (Orig pub 1947). Zürich: Theologischer Verlag.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig Pub 1937). Translated by R. H. Fuller and Irmgard Booth. New York: Simon & Schuster.

[1] I read Dogmatik im Grundriβ during my year in Germany (1979).

[2] Barth, Bonhoeffer, and others started the neo-orthodox school of theological thought which was popular in the period from the 1940s to the 1960s, but since then has fallen out of fashion.

[3] http://www.Navigators.org.

[4] http://www.cpcames.org.

[5] Pascal’s Wager is mathematic proof that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov 1:7)

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Coming Home

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Phil 1:21)

Coming Home

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

My decision to study economics forced me to re-organize priorities both inside and outside school. In school, economics required supporting work in mathematics, statistics, and computer science which I had not taken. Outside of school, my volunteer work in the Indiana Public Research Group (INPIRG) was a constant distraction from my studies. I looked for schools closer to home.

INPIRG Distracts

In my sophomore year of college (1973), for example, my volunteering included work on a local congressional campaign, community organizing, and support for other INPIRG projects. The congressional campaign involved chauffeuring a friend of mine, Charlotte, around the district in Indiana accompanying her on numerous campaign stops. The community organizing involved organizing local community groups on the west side (across the railroad tracks) of Bloomington to protest the city’s neglect in taking care of burned out house on the edge of town. The support for other INPIRG projects involved recruiting students for demonstrations and volunteering for things, like the weekly grocery store price survey, when other volunteers failed to show up.

Being a faithful volunteer was personally meaningful and introduced me to many interesting people both in the local community and on campus, but after I was turned down for a paid position as a community organizer for INPIRG, I started to feel abused. This feeling reached a boiling point when the executive director scheduled a defective-part demonstration at an automotive plant in Fort Wayne during exams week and asked me to recruit students to help out—I did my best, but ultimately I was the only student who was willing to attend the demonstration. After the demonstration and poor performance on exams, I decided to transfer to another school rather than study economics at Indiana University.

College of William and Mary

Transferring to another school proved more challenging than I initiated envisioned, in part, because in the spring of 1973 my parents moved from Maryland to Falls Church, Virginia. Virginia had good schools so, not thinking much about it, I applied for and was accepted at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, thinking that I would save my parents money by going to school in state. School in Indiana would be over in April and summer school classes started in June, leaving me the month of May open to earn the money to pay for summer school expenses.

Earning summer school expenses in a month was just barely doable, if I worked construction during the day and worked in a restaurant at night. For construction, I worked as a plumber’s helper constructing the McLean House where, at first, I helped a plumber hang pipe, but, after the old veteran screwed it up his assignment, the foreman made it abundantly clear that my real job was to keep the plumber out of trouble—the trouble was that he “brown bagged” breakfast at six-thirty in the morning and to cover up his alcohol consumption drank profuse amounts of coffee all day. For restaurant work, I worked the dinner shift at Roy Rogers in Falls Church where I flipped burgers until after eleven and routinely closed out the place. Between construction and restaurant work, by the end of May I was so exhausted that at one point the foreman at the McLean House accused me of having fallen asleep while standing up. Asleep or awake, I earned my summer school expenses in a month.

At William and Mary that summer, I enrolled in principles of economics and calculus, lived in the Jefferson House, and worked washing dishes in George’s Campus Restaurant in Greek Town. I remember economics mostly because my professor smoked cigars blowing smoke and telling stories of his government service and because a pitcher of beer was my favorite study aid. Studying in Jefferson House, known best for its six-inch cockroaches, was a lost cause because of a lack of air conditioning and the intense summer heat. It was cooler washing dishes at George’s Campus Restaurant, where I enjoyed hanging out and got my only real meal of the day.

Out of State at Home

One day I received a letter in the mail from William and Mary informing me that I was being classified as an out-of-state student. This classification, which substantially increased my tuition costs and defeated my primary reason to return to Virginia from Indiana, caused me great distress and with letter in hand I went to visit the college president. The president, sitting behind a figure of three monkeys (hear no evil; see no evil; speak no evil) on his desk, quietly explained to me that, because I had an Indiana driver’s license and registered to vote in Indiana, that I was not a resident of Virginia. To that I responded: if I am not a Virginia resident, then what state am I a resident of? My parents no longer reside in Maryland where I grew up; I have never actually lived outside of school in Indiana; and Virginia is my only real home—how can I not be a resident? The legal answer was that I was not “domiciled” in Virginia because I could not at that point in my life know where I would live following graduation and Virginia required that I be domiciled in Virginia.

Domiciled or not, the president had actually done me a favor because William and Mary was not a good fit, both because of the small class sizes and strong influence of fraternities on student housing. The small class size meant that my cigar-smoking professor, who waxed eloquently about the distinguished history of tidewater Virginia to the detriment weightier topics, would be unavoidable. And, although I was not enamored with Jefferson House, I was even less interested in pledging a fraternity, in part, because of their culture and, in part, because of my own independent streak. The parochial outlook on life at William and Mary and the high tuition costs made the college a bad fit.

Iowa State

When I checked expenses at Iowa State University, where my father attended college, they were lower than at William and Mary College. Iowa State had the additional benefits of being closer to my grandparents and of having a nationally-recognized program in agricultural economics, which was of interest. The idea of studying at Iowa State also pleased everyone in my family. When I applied to and was accepted by Iowa State, I felt that I was truly coming home.

Also see: Looking Back

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