Hi there. I couldn’t go on without talking about everything that’s been going on last week… And, well, what a week it’s been.
Let’s start off with Monday. I was still figuring myself out, because since the weekend I’ve been nursing a headache that couldn’t go away, and one that kept me waking up at night. I don’t know if it was just stress that induced this uncommon headache – I told Mom that I suppose I was thinking of all that would be going on, to which she responded that I shouldn’t be worrying too much. In my case I felt I needed to clarify this – it wasn’t that I was worrying too much, it was more like I was thinking about all the details I needed in my mind as the days progressed – overthinking, if you want to call it that. And I’d probably agree, from the perspective that all my biological RAM was being accessed at one time, and I could only free space as the days progressed and events unfolded. And now that I think of it, sometimes memory management isn’t just about us filling our motherboard RAM slots, but more of just making sure we run only what’s needed, just so we have enough space for whenever something comes up.
Anyway. So, yeah, the headache was still around… not as painful but just enough so I would give it some attention. When the time came for me to head out (I wanted to make it to Clark before the sun set, and so I could check in ASAP), I brought the household together to pray. Mom wanted to hitch a ride with me to get a ride to town, so we headed out, I hugged Mom before she alighted, and then the highways beckoned. Turns out I was off to a false start because as I was making my way, roughly a tenth of the way through Kennon Road, I had to turn back because I forgot something. Whoopee.
The drive was pretty smooth. I tensed up a bit when I got to the entrance of the Tarlac – Pangasinan – La Union Expressway (TPLEX), because there were tarpaulins everywhere, saying that if you don’t have an RFID tag installed on your car, you weren’t allowed on the expressway. I pulled to the side and turned my hazards on – but then a guard, who seemed to be used to folks like me doing the exact same thing, came to me and said I could still pay the toll fees using cash, and proceeded to give me a QR Code slip. With that, I was set to drive, oh, at least 50km straight to make a giant leap towards my destination.
It was around this time that the headache just started beating down on me. I don’t know if it was the change in temperature or atmosphere, or if it was just the stress built up in my head, or both, but it was affecting me as I was driving. I was at a high risk considering I was going at close to the speed limit of 100kph, speeding up and weaving in and out of the overtaking lane as needed, all while my head and eyes were experiencing discomfort. At times I was feeling sleepy and was closing my eyes seconds at a time (!), and there was even one time that I was experiencing chills. As a response I pulled over at the nearest Lay-By (thank God for those), took a bathroom break, had a swig of water to down a painkiller, and messaged my church team as well as other group chats I trust, for them to pray for me.
I am thankful for the prayers, just as much as I am thankful for the painkiller, because it got me through this expressway. I am thankful for the clear signages along the road, and on the toll gates; I didn’t have any trouble finding where I needed to fall in line. I am thankful for the businesses along the expressway, where I was able to get some last minute toiletries. I’m thankful for Google Maps, which got me to where I needed to go with minimal hassle. And I am thankful for the ministry that was hosting us, because they were very seamless in their accommodating, oh, 400-500 of us from all over the Philippines, so that we were able to settle in and unpack as soon as possible.
My gosh, this is still just Monday.
For the entire day of Tuesday, we attended the conference we all travelled so far to get to… and now that I look back at it, I have some respect for how excellent the said administrative staff that was hosting us had, in terms of time management and keeping all of us in line. It was pretty seamless. No dead air, and just enough time in between segments for our minds and bodies to refresh.
If you’ve been going through my earlier articles, I’ve been writing of my perspectives gathered and gained while listening to CB Samuel; a minister from India who has had experience in missions and in handling global-scale ministries, eventually deciding to serve back in his home country, joining Compassion events as he is called.
Before I go any further, I just want to mention that I was called to represent out community organization months prior to the actual conference and celebration, and I was aware of the event theme well before it started: That is, ‘Moving Together (?) with Christ in the Center’; I share this only to say that my initial thoughts on the matter were a bit on the cynical side… Here we go, I thought, just another theme that may sound like we’re focused on Christ, but in action may come out as us being focused on being focused on Christ.
Here’s the thing, though – as soon as I heard more and more of what CB Samuel had to say, I was getting pleasantly surprised; Of course, it helps that CB Samuel was from India – and with my fond memories of listening to and laughing with Russell Peters (and a bit of Trevor Noah, I’ll admit), you can tell that someone with an Indian accent talking about Christ and NOT about making it about Christ was WAY up my alley. Friends, I was just so impressed at what this man had to say; Granted, I didn’t agree with absolutely everything he had to share, but that just adds to the entire beauty of the general message, and the general Truth we both subscribe to, doesn’t it? I mean, if we all agree with each other on absolutely everything, how boring would that be? It’s the differences that make what’s in common shine even brighter.
That ought to be on a frame somewhere.
Anyway… You may see what I had to say about Christ-Centrality in some of my more recent posts, but I’ll be sharing what’s still on my mind, without going back to them:
First, I absolutely loved how CB Samuel said that Christianity is a movement, and not an institution. For me to just type it now excites me. Now that I think about it again, if we’re agreeing with this, we’re saying that Christ did all He did – from His birth, death, resurrection, and ascension – to MOVE us, and not to INSTITUTIONALIZE us. It’s another way of us appreciating Christ who did what He did to establish a relationship with His beloved, and not a religion with His creation. It’s another way of us appreciating Christ, who did not seem to reclaim us more than He reconciled us.
Of course, this ought to get us to understand that we ourselves should be engaging with more people – by way of lifegroups, sure, but not only in that manner but in all levels of engagement possible. We’ve been told to raise funds and contribute to proposed and ‘approved’ ‘upgrades’ to the cosmetics and the gear of the church ‘sanctuary’ we hold our services in – imagine my joy and relief when CB Samuel mentioned these exact words: ‘We should be working on helping people, preaching to them, feeding them… but some of us still think it’s more important to fix our sound system.’
To say that Christianity is a movement and not an institution… that’s definitely making its way to my message for my congregation and our Pastors, for the upcoming year 2023.
Second, I liked how CB Samuel mentioned the role of the Holy Spirit, and His critical role in any extraordinary success we have and hope to have in our churches. He mentions how the prophets spoke of the role of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament: Isaiah spoke and said “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;” (Isaiah 61:1); Jeremiah spoke and said, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” (Joel 2:28)
He goes on to mention of how prophecy was fulfilled in the New Testament – as told by Christ, who quoted what Isaiah had to say in Luke 4:18. I don’t know if it’s of note for us to indicate that He mentioned this before His crucifixion, but later on, after Christ had ascended and the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem, they immediately spoke to the people in foreign tongues, and it was here that Peter quoted Joel, in Acts 2:17-21.
And now that I write about this, I see two possibilities as we speak with the authority of the Holy Spirit alive in us, today. We may confound and offend those who think themselves as wise, just as Christ was confronted with violence as He spoke from Isaiah in the synagogue. Or, we bring people to believing in Christ, just as a significant multitude was baptized right after Peter spoke the words of Joel in the marketplace.
There were a whole lot of other things that I scribbled down in my notes, but I will say this to more or less summarize everything that I learned from CB Samuel:
Christ-centrality is our moving with the Holy Spirit, the manifest presence of Christ in each and every one of us. It is the Holy Spirit that makes the body of Christ a movement, and not any other institution.
The very next day, CB Samuel still spoke to us in the morning, but they also gave a slot for the President of the organization to speak… and I will just share that I enjoyed what he had to say about Psalm 23. Of course, we’ve been talking about how we certainly appreciate our Lord and Savior as our Good Shepherd during some instances at church this year, but, just like I enjoyed CB Samuel’s perspectives, so I enjoyed Jimmy’s insights (I forgot his last name). He had us notice how Christ leads us to rest in green pastures, and to relax beside still waters. He had us imagine and consider how the Savior of our souls would restore our souls, before He leads us – and, even then, He is with us.
Putting the words of CB Samuel and Jimmy together, we can say that by the power of the Holy Spirit, it is Christ who leads us into rest, but it is also Christ who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. It is also Christ who ministers to us even in the presence of our enemies. By the power of the Holy Spirit, by Christ alive in us, and by us being alive in Christ, we can say that goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
So the conference was over. Technically, we were free to leave and head home, but I was convinced by my fellow pastors and my Mom to say, for the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Compassion Pilipinas… and I just want to say, I have absolutely no regrets.
I saw just how much Compassion was a movement – or at least, more a movement than an institution, anyway. What got to me the most was when the group went beyond just presenting numbers and statistics emphasizing their growth since 1972. No, they went further, and in doing so, they blew me away. They not only called on former staff to testify to the goodness of God in their organization, but they did one better – they called a good number of Compassion alumni to come on stage, to sing Great Is Thy Faithfulness.
What’s more is that they started with worship, and even if there was already worship happening in between presentations and skits… well, they finished with worship, and what a great choice of songs. I was introduced to Sukdulang Biyaya (Extreme Blessings), a song still playing in the back of my mind… and then they finished with singing Dakila Ka O Diyos (God You Are Faithful), one that I was very familiar with, one that had a very special spot in my soul.
Friends, the way I saw the celebration, it was a 3-4 hour event which testified to not only the growth, but the survival, and not only the survival, but the thriving of a community that recognizes, appreciates and celebrates Christ by way of the Holy Spirit bringing them to fulfill their mission – to uplift children out of poverty.
It was only after this celebration that I could say, that the entire event was ended. And what an ending that was.
Thursday was decompressing, and travelling back home… but not before I spent a little more time in the hotel lobby after checkout, long enough to see a familiar Compassion staff member on his way out, and praying for him, before I headed out as well. I must note that around this time I was feeling much better, compared to a week before. It could probably be because the event was over, and I had a grasp as to how to travel back to Baguio without too much in mind – there was free RAM.
I was told by our Project Director that the old Puregold Duty Free complex was not too far from where the hotel was… and after debating with myself on whether to go or not, well, I just went anyway. In Tagalog, sulitin ko na yung oras ko dito (I aim to make the most of my time away). When I got there, not only was I pleasantly amused that I had a parking space open up for me right beside the entrance, but I was also brought to a comforting, familiar feeling, as I walked into a shopping complex we frequented as a family when I was way younger – only this time, I was the one going to spend. I picked up what I thought I needed – at first I was looking at uncommon condiments for the house, condiments I never saw in any other grocery (Chipotle Tabasco? Hell yes). Soon as those filled the empty cart, well, it didn’t take long for more stuff to follow. I found me all sorts of low-cost sweets to buy in bulk for me to give away this Christmas. I also threw in a couple bottles of hard drinks… well, to celebrate and observe said holidays with a little bit of style.
It was a good decision to swing by, because I spent just enough time there, before a meeting I had in Tarlac, which was a little less than an hour’s drive away. A little side note – here’s where I learned how to find a parking space in a more congested area: Follow people with shopping bags, who look like they’re on their way out. Follow them to their cars, and wait for them to leave to take their space.
I was chatting with someone I met online, and it was last Thursday that we finally got to meet. I will just say that it was just good to meet someone full of perspective already during our online chats, and who had even more perspective to share in person. The interaction we had was provoking. It was challenging as much as it was refreshing, and it certainly gave me yet another perspective on how we certainly need to be people of movement, and not merely content to be institutionalized. I only lament that she was one of a small group of other special friends who fit under the specific category of being special, but sadly far away, up there with my brothers from other mothers in Dubai and Toronto. I’m glad that she’s at least from Tarlac. Closer.
As with all my other A & S-Tier friends, I observe a relational dynamic with this newfound friend, called flow. We don’t force things to happen, but celebrate as milestones unfold. I am happy to have met and interacted with her, and I look forward to where the flow takes us. I ensured that she had safe passage to her own home, before I hit the road again.
On the drive through TPLEX I shifted from listening to my Spotify 2022 Wrapped playlist, to a conversation between Jordan Peterson and Benjamin Netanyahu. Besides listening to Bibi’s conviction and seeing his passion in presenting the dominant Jewish side of the story of their nation, I enjoyed the wisdom he had to share as well. He spoke on the importance of a purpose, and how it was what served as a foundation and a power source for him, as he rose to the highest position of government in the nation of Israel, and also as he was re-elected recently. He spoke of the approach of peace through power, which he says is the complete opposite of Barack Obama’s conviction, which is power through peace. His approach towards power was three-fold: Economics, Military, and Politics. I thought this was interesting, just as we could apply it in our own lives.
To be precise, the power we wield is a mixture of how we handle our money, how we handle our strength, and how we handle our words.
Anyway I resisted any temptation to deviate from the fastest route to Baguio to buy food, but ended up at the last 7-11 before the house. Saw a good friend park beside me by coincidence, and we caught up quickly before parting ways, with food in tow. It ended up to be a bit much. I plopped into bed that evening, exhausted, but full.
I’ll get into Friday and Saturday before wrapping this all up. Again, this is more for myself, but if you’re still here, and if you’re still reading, well… thanks.
I spent a little bit of Friday recovering from all that transpired in Clark, and preparing for another drive to Bauang with my team. As it was my father’s birthday yesterday, I was quick to agree with my Mom when she said she wanted to visit his grave today. So we were all set to leave, when at the last moments before we left the house, I receive a call from one of the leaders of the school I minister to – I was called to go there as soon as possible to address what was an emergency to them. Apparently one of the students suddenly started going wild, isolating himself and shouting all sorts of curses, refusing to calm down.
I told my Mom about the incident and offered, as a compromise, for all of us to go to the school en route to the cemetery for a quick stopover. I found it a little timely as I needed to process a couple of documents with some of the church people, but also just a little inconvenient considering that the principal who called me requested for a ‘man’ or a ‘male’ to help handle the situation, while I was fully aware of some other men who were around the school.
We made our way there and I got more details on what was going on. They confiscated this kid’s phone as he was on it a little too much in school, and that triggered the entire outburst. After handling my other transactions, I was fortunate to have been able to pull the kid outside to talk to him without making too much of a scene. When we were alone, I asked him for his side of the story.
He told me that he was hearing voices in his head which were, in his words, ‘contrary to what (he) wanted to do.’ – hurting people, hurting himself, etc.; I asked for more details, and found out that he’s been having this issue ever since he started studying with us. When I ran out of questions to ask, I proceeded to pray for him.
As I was praying for him, I was reminded to remind him of what was mentioned in 1 John 4:4 – ‘Greater is He is that is in you, than he that is in the world.’ I told him of this Truth, and assured him also of the hope that he has which keeps him together when these voices try to distract him or disturb him; I told him about Hebrews 6:19, about the hope that we have that is an Anchor for our souls. After giving the young man a hug, I brought him back to where I found him, at the sanctuary. The kid’s teacher proceeded to talk to me, and asked for my advice – should we recommend medical or professional treatment? I answered her, saying that we ought to tell the parents of what has happened, what we did and what we can do, and go as far as to suggest professional treatment… but the choice should be theirs to make. Whatever they decide I found it even more pressing to pray and to keep praying for this young man.
We’re just coming out of learning about Christ-centrality, and already we’re being led to field work and real-world scenarios. Interesting.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Friday night, we drove down to Bauang, and after settling in and having dinner, we held an informal meeting. Our agenda was to iron out the details for our upcoming events for the holidays, and also to sort of evaluate how we’ve been doing financially, throughout this year. For the latter, just to get it out of the way, I’ll just say that I’m thankful to the Lord for people with more resources than the average person, who are willing to give more than the average person could, for the survival and the thriving of our little ministry.
December 18 is looking to be a straight-up Christmas party for the congregation. We agreed that we would still have a worship set, and also, that we would still observe Holy Communion – even if I raised the concern that it would be contradictory to remember Christ’s death before we celebrate His birth. As I was writing that, I remember one verse in the famous hymn, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing:
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.
I probably should be writing about this and expounding on this in a separate entry but I’m glad I was led to these lyrics. Apparently we can talk about Christ’s birth while mentioning His death. He was born to die… and He died, that we would be born again. Beautiful. Will definitely write about this more at another time.
December 25 and January 1 are Sundays, and our little afternoon service is looking to be the only service that’ll happen on those days. This means that we will be joined by our brothers and sisters who would usually go to the morning services, along with their leadership. Pressure much? Sure, but also, challenge accepted. We discussed how we will be doing worship as usual, and I will have a little time to share my heart to everyone who isn’t too tired or hung-over from the festivities. When I’m done I’ll be giving our other leaders their time to pray, and to declare blessings, before we all pray and worship together.
With all this written down, we all did our thing to decompress. I went straight to bed, and I was told that I snored. I guess I was tired.
The next day I was just relaxing as my team woke up one by one; the resort we were in didn’t give us a good vantage point to welcome the sunrise, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating how the lights played on the clouds and the sea. And speaking of the sea, the ocean was noticeably more… active this time around, compared to the last time we were there. It was pretty bad the night before – the waves literally crashed against the rocks and the cement, strong enough that we sort of felt the force in our room some 30 meters away. This morning, though, the tides subsided so the waters were crashing at a distance safe so we could stand at the furthest point of the ledge.
So there we were, moving in and out, taking pictures until we were satisfied, moving away, then moving back when the lights hit everything with a different hue and color. Eventually the ladies took point and prepared breakfast, while the boys were mostly on their cellphones. When everyone finished eating we all made our way to the resort pool, to kill time while we waited for another member of the team to arrive from Baguio – she was coming from a night shift.
Eventually she arrived; we packed up, settled our bill, and headed out to our destination for the day… an eco park around, oh, an hour’s drive away. Soon as we got there we had lunch, and some of the boys didn’t wait too long before heading out to the island, armed with snorkels and filled with pork and rice.
Okay, I guess I need to talk a little bit about the eco park. I’ll just paste what I read from one of their billboards:
HISTORY OF IMMUKI ISLAND
Kaparingitan as what Barangay folks call it during the olden times is what we now call as Immuki Island.
“IMMUKI” is a word derived from a sea creature that can only thrive on the paringit (dead corals) called sea slugs or BABAO. BABAO or BAO is a Pangasinense word translated in Ilocano as UKI or the female genital. The word IMMUKI has been associated with the island because the shape of its main lagoon also resembles that of the female genital.
With the wide imagination of people in the area and from word-of-mouth passed through generations, the other lagoons of the island were also named BIMMUTO (male genital) and IMMUBET (anus) because their shapes resemble that of the penis and anus.
At present, the IMMUKI ISLAND is one of the fast developing tourist destinations in Balaoan. It is conserved and protected by the local government unit, Barangay government and fisherfolks through the strict implementation of Municipal Ordinance No. 03 S. 2018.
IMMUKI ISLAND is located at Barangay Paraoir, Balaoan, La Union.
You can tell why the boys were raring to go. Groan. Anyway that’s where we were, until around sunset. I was one of the first to clean up and pack up because I wanted to be ready to take some pictures. Then after everyone took a bath and packed up, and after I got enough shots and videos to share as part of my visual art initiative, we headed out while it was still light.
Before anything else I feel I need to mention this – So the last time I drove us home from Immuki Island, I disregarded Google Maps, assuming that the traffic in the cities of San Fernando and Bauang wasn’t too bad. It really wasn’t, but we did spend a little more time on the road. With that in mind, I decided to follow the lead of the app, assuming that I would be led to the same bypass road I was directed to when we went to Immuki Island earlier in the morning.
As we drove through the unlit roads which I’m assuming was a highway of sorts built in the middle of rice fields and farmland, I thought, sure, we weren’t brought to the same bypass road, but this highway is nice… and then we suddenly found ourselves driving through narrower roads through residential areas, further from the shore and a little too close to the mountains. There was at least one instance where I’ve had to back up to a wider area just to let oncoming traffic through – I chuckled and thought, you guys being led by Google too?
We all went deeper and deeper through the winding, narrow, rough roads. All this time I was thinking that we’re eventually going to make it back to the main highway. And then the roads started getting steeper… and while the team was mostly optimistic, I could tell we were all pretty on edge, especially since all of us were singing along to the worship songs being played on Spotify. At one point I pulled over to ask a security guard if we were on the right road to Baguio, to which he responded to the affirmative… but he also warned us, the roads don’t get any more steep.
And man, he wasn’t kidding. Soon after, sure, the roads were cemented and smoother… but we found ourselves driving down slopes, only to have to climb up near-perpendicular, slightly narrow but weaving roads. Note that I was driving a 20-year old car, full of passengers and gear… but just as my car proved to be reliable at faster speeds, so he (yes, it’s a he) also showed his staying power as I kept him on first gear for, oh, 6-7 minutes straight. At one point we almost crashed into a tree in the middle of the road, but thanks to God-enhanced reflexes and an equally reliable car… well, we literally overcame that mountain.
I want to mention two things. At first, we were being followed by another car, who I suspect was being scammed by Google Maps as well. These folks followed us up until where I stopped to talk to the guard; well, they followed us a little after that, but I assumed they turned back, because as we went for the literal rollercoaster drive, we didn’t see their lights behind us anymore. To be honest, I deviated from what Google Maps initially suggested – I mean, I took what looked like where the road naturally led, only to see that the app wanted me to take the other road at the fork. When I stopped to ask, again, the guard was telling me I was on the right path.
Second, I’m.. well, I’m thankful. So thankful. There were no other lights, we were driving up and down hills and mountains, and the roads, though cemented, were unmaintained – there was all sorts of un-swept plant matter on the side of the road, and other signs that people don’t really go through this road. I say I’m thankful because I believed there was the real chance of us being held up by modern-day bandits. They could have taken everything, down to our lives, and nobody would have noticed. So I just want to thank God. We were in an adventure, and He kept us safe the entire time.
Actually I want to mention a third thing. I want this on record. We eventually made our way out of the steep roads, and were driving through residential areas again. And then Google tells us to turn away from the road which seemed like the safest and most obvious road to go on, down into another dirt road. At this point we were pretty flustered, but I knew I had to take that road. I asked my team – my team who planned on sleeping on the way home, but were not wide awake – ‘You guys with me?’
Almost immediately I heard them say yes. That meant a lot to me.
With that, I drove down… and oh, around 3 minutes later, we found ourselves back on the main highway, apparently having bypassed all three urban congested areas – San Juan, San Fernando, and Bauang. I let out battle cries of victory… and then I promptly pulled to a gas station. I knew everyone had to pee.
To think, again, in the span of a week, my car and my driving was put through some rigid testing, through high-speed expressways, and high-incline mountain roads. I’ve been saying non-stop since we got home, and as I relate these stories… I’m not going to sell the car. We seemed to be in sync, as I continued the drive up the less steep Naguilian road; I’d like to think that my team was able to rest in this small amount of time we had left in the trip. Eventually we made our way back to Baguio. We unloaded our extra gear in church storage, and I proceeded to drive the rest of my team home.
I got home, and I was too tired to unpack. I mean I was too tired to fix my clothes and my other stuff, and I also mean I was too exhausted to really talk to my Mom about everything that happened. After chilling just a little in the office on the computer, I crawled up to my room, changed, and enjoyed my bed – a bed I only inhabited at least once this week.
…and what a week it was.
Blood mingled with sand as the lifeless corpse hit the ground… One could say that the body would have fallen in a gracious manner with the head providing a balance of sorts. Unfortunately, the nameless gladiator’s head hit the ground seconds before, sliced off clean by the clear winner of the deathmatch.
Maximus Decimus Meridius paced around the headless body, and then looked at the bodies of nine other poor souls who lost their shot at glory. They tried to kill the disgraced Roman general… and they failed in a spectacular fashion.
He surveyed the sands where they fought – well, it wasn’t much of a fight more than it was a slaughter. He looked around and observed that the crowd was silent. Suddenly he threw his gladius as far as he could in the direction of the bleachers, before crying out, ‘Are you not entertained!? Are you NOT entertained!? …Is this not why you are here!?’
He threw his shield to the ground and spat on one of the corpses as he walked away. The crowd was still silent until someone began to lead them in chanting, ‘Spaniard! Spaniard! Spaniard!’; Maximus paused to look at this now noisy crowd, with a look as if to say, ‘unbelievable.’
Well, Lord, I have been entertained. This has been one hell of a week… and I feel as if I need to finally end this here, before I go any further.
I want to thank you for joining me as I put all of these events for my own use, and well, maybe for yours as well. Though I’m not sure how this serves you.
Are you not entertained?
Until the next post, God bless you.
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