EPTA 2024

July 20, 2024 by  
Filed under Books, Featured, Missions, News, Publication, Research

100 DAYS of REVIVAL

July 15, 2024 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News

Gen Z and Mental Health

July 10, 2024 by  
Filed under Featured, News, Publication, Research

How can church leaders better reach Gen Z? Doug Powe, Director of the Lewis Center, speaks with Josh Packard about Springtide Research Institute’s research including what faith leaders need to know about Gen Z’s religious beliefs and mental health. 


Doug Powe: What is the research process for Spring Tide Research Institute’s annual report, The State of Religion & Young People 2022: Mental Health — What Faith Leaders Need to Know? 

Josh Packard: I am a former academic, but I will keep this as engaging as possible. We use an approach that we’ve been pioneering called . We focus on the classical quantitative (statistics) and qualitative (interviews). We collected about 10,000 surveys and did over 100 interviews with young people. We involve young people’s voices throughout the research process.  

We’ve got a group of young people that meets monthly, and they help us shape the questions. Sometimes we bring them data and we think we understand what it’s telling us but we’re not sure. They’ll help us and say, “No, man. That’s not the right way to think about that. It means this other thing.” Or they’ll affirm that we’re on the right track.  

We’re still researchers, so as much as we listen to young people and try to center their voices in this process, we are also triangulating that with good existing academic theory and our own quantitative and qualitative data. It’s not like it’s straight out of their mouths and onto our pages. We involve them throughout all stages of the process in some pretty important and formal ways, which you can see in the research especially in the kinds of questions we ask. 

Doug Powe: Josh, I have a son who falls within the range of your study, so I was very interested in your report. I’ve observed many of the issues that you name like depression and anxiety. What was a little surprising is how high the numbers were that you discovered: 47 percent of young people reported being moderately or extremely depressed, and 55 percent moderately or extremely stressed. What are some of the root causes of depression and stress? 

Josh Packard: First, it’s worth noting that these are self-report numbers. These are not clinical diagnoses, so there’s a few things that I think are going into that. For Gen Z, talking about mental health no longer carries the same stigma it has for previous generations. This does not mean that all the stigma reduction work is done and that we can stop thinking about it. That’s not true. It just means that we’ve come a long way. 

When Gen Z thinks and talks to us about mental health stigma, they don’t mean among each other. They mean between them and the adults in their lives. They know that the adults in their lives do not like talking about mental health, even to the other adults, but certainly it makes them uncomfortable for adults to have conversations with young people and mental health. I do think that there’s a little bit more of what I would call rightsizing of that conversation. I’m 44 and when I was growing up these were not things that were open topics of conversation, at least in my suburban mostly white community. These were things discussed behind closed doors, if at all. And now, if you spend any amount of time on TikTok or on Instagram, you’ll see mental health is an ongoing, very public, and open conversation especially for young people. So, I think that’s a big part of it. At the same time, part of that is just about shifting the social and cultural norms about what’s acceptable to talk about.  

The actual realities of young people’s lives have changed in some important ways, too. One thing that had a big effect was the pandemic, and the pandemic didn’t change things for young people in this regard. The Surgeon General and other people were all over this before the pandemic hit, pointing out that this was a looming and potentially already started crisis before we went into lockdown. The pandemic accelerated trends that were already in place. 

When you broaden out for just a minute and think about what social media and social media technologies mean for young people, they are not inherently good or bad. We know that social media companies do not have young people’s bests interests in mind. That is not how they operate. They’ve got armies of PhDs who are trying to keep eyes glued to the screen as long as they possibly can. A 15-year-old’s prefrontal cortex is no match for that. It’s not because they’re gullible. It’s not because they’re bad or weak people. The brain has not developed in a way that allows them to turn those things off as easily as adults. By the way, a lot of adults have trouble turning off social media. 

They’re constantly bombarded by messages that are not necessarily designed to be affirming, or to help them flourish. They are really designed to keep them looking, and sometimes what keeps them looking is not always great. Those are two of the really big things that we haven’t really developed clear social norms and parenting guidelines around. They’re emerging and people are getting better at it, but certainly there are a lot of parents who are just like, “Whatever. I don’t even know where to start. I’m just going let them go.” 

Doug Powe: Right.  

Josh Packard: Many adults were struggling with our own things through the pandemic, trying to keep jobs, to keep food on the table, to meet basic needs. And as much as adults might have tried to do and have done some real things with mental health, they couldn’t do everything all at once. I think those are two of the biggest factors that have sort of pushed mental health to the forefront for Gen Z. 

Doug Powe: That’s helpful, and we’ll come back to the pandemic a little bit later. I should have mentioned upfront that this is sort of self-diagnosis per the statistics. Do you believe that young people have a different understanding of mental health? I think that older people work with almost clinical definitions when we do talk about it. Do you think Gen Z understands mental health in different ways than many of us who are older understand it? 

Josh Packard: Yes, I think that’s right. Even when we look at the clinical diagnoses, those are certainly on the uptick with young people. But they are talking about mental health in a much more holistic way. Let’s just take one seemingly small thing that has important implications — the very term mental health. For people maybe my age and certainly older, mental health was often synonymous with mental illness. When we talked about mental health, what we meant was “you’re having a problem.” What we found in our interviews is that Gen Z doesn’t think about it that way. If they mean a problem, they will talk about mental illness. What they mean when they talk about mental health is mental health. It’s talking about mental healthiness, mental health issues or problems and what they can to help support their mental health and be healthy in the same way that I think previous generations addressed physical health. It’s not that you will only talk about your physical health when you go to the doctor because you have a problem or because something is broken. You’re also exercising at the gym, etc., and calling all that physical health. Well, Gen Z very much is in that same vein except with mental health, too.  

Doug Powe: That’s important to note because, while many of us know that we don’t often make that distinction, the distinction between mental illness and mental health is an important one. The report certainly helps to lift that up and to clarify that distinction.  

Your report shares interesting and good news that young people with a religious connection tend to do better. With that, however, is a challenge that those in faith communities also can do as much harm as good when it comes to helping young people. What role should pastors and others in faith communities play in helping young people who are stressed or anxious? Secondly, when the issues are deep, how do we make sure that we help them get the professional care they need and not try to solve those issues for them? 

Josh Packard: Those are great questions, and you’re right to point out that, at the extreme, there are ways that religion can be bad for you. It’s also worth noting, while it’s true in the Gallup research for the last 30 years and true across all the academic studies that religion is generally good for you, it is also true that, increasingly, this is a self-selected group of people. We also need to pay attention to whom religion was keeping away in many cases and any resulting mental health ramifications.  

Living a life that’s connected to something bigger than yourself or that’s driven by purpose — those are good things. There are a lot of young people who just don’t feel like they have access to those things because of their identity, or they don’t have access to a person who is welcomed by a lot of the religious institutions, or they don’t perceive being welcomed by those institutions. What religious leaders have to offer is that you are not alone in this world and you are intrinsically connected to a part of something that’s bigger than yourself — and that can be ancestral, that can be where you and your people come from. It can be something that’s bound up by an ideology, belief system, or theology that communicates that you’re a part of something that’s bigger.  

When that happens, lots of other things sort of click into place, especially for a young person who’s spending most of adolescence trying to figure out if this thing happening to me is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to anyone in the whole world ever, or is this just a normal thing that happens. And how should I respond appropriately to that? I mean, that’s what socialization is. When you get that sense of purpose and that sense of connection, navigation becomes a lot easier. Setbacks are just setbacks; they’re not the end of the world. Faith can contribute to much more resilience for young people experiencing a lot of the stress and strife that often comes with growing up.  

There is a big caveat: in many cases, especially historically, for some reason and not across the board but with some faith and religious expressions, there’s been a tendency to think that mental health issues are an impediment to faith, that they are an indicator that you’re not praying in the right way (if you’re Christian) or believing in the right way or meditating in the right way, etc. So, there’s a reluctance in some communities to seek out professional mental health advisors.  

I mentioned at the beginning that we meet with a group of young people every month, and they’re phenomenal. They take time every month to meet with us on Zoom for a couple of hours, and we talk about everything. This project started because we knew this was an issue, and we were trying to figure out if Springtide had a role to play or if there was something useful for us to contribute to this conversation. If there was nothing useful, unique, and special, for us to say, we would let others who are better at this talk about it. What convinced me that we had something we should pursue was when one of our ambassadors said, “There was a time that I was really struggling with some mental health issues. I went to my youth minister, and I was told to pray about it. When that didn’t work, I walked away thinking ‘Great. Now, not only does my mental health suck, but my faith life sucks, too.’”  

It hit me because I felt, in that moment, that I could see that whole scene unfolding. We hear from a lot of people who are well-meaning, well-intentioned adults working in some sort of faith-based setting with young folks. We talk to a lot of young people like this young man who was sharing the story with me. In that moment, I was able to see there was no harm intended by that youth minister. They were using the best tools at their disposal to try and help that young person sitting across the table from them, and it wasn’t good enough.  

That cannot be all we have to offer a young person who’s dealing with depression, anxiety, or some other really serious issue. It’s an important part of a response. Faith, religion, and spirituality can be critical components to getting through those kinds of issues, working on them, and incorporating them and their treatment into your life, but they’re not the whole response. Here’s a story we have to tell that privileges, understands, and positions purpose, faith, and belief in spirituality in an important way but also recognizes its limits and points to this mental health thing young people are experiencing as a real thing that needs real professionals to come alongside in that domain as well as in their religious and spiritual lives. 

Doug Powe: You’ve already mentioned some key words, but what was also helpful in the report is that you share a framework for faith communities that can be helpful in their being a place that is prepared to welcome young people and help them deal with different mental health issues. In that framework, you talk about connectionexpectation, and purpose. I’m going to let you explain the framework. I appreciate that you’re not saying, if you do these things, they will lead to the perfect community, but you’re sharing things that you need to consider as you’re thinking about the working with young people. That distinction is important for what it is you’re hoping to accomplish. 

Josh Packard: We also affirm the need for mental health first aid training and being prepared to connect young people with practitioners and resources. I was a professor for 15 years, and I often felt wholly unequipped to deal with some of the issues that students were facing and trying to navigate. I always felt very grateful that we had professional resources on campus that I could refer them to, but it struck me that we should be able to do more. Our organizations themselves should be structured in a way that supports young people’s mental health from beginning to end, that are what we call “mental-health friendly” organizations.  

Are young people going to have mental health issues? Are they going to have breakdowns and things like this? Of course. For some people, there’s a complex mixture of social and biological factors at play, and you’re not going to eliminate all those. We can do better, and we can prevent more of these issues from becoming crises. Part of the pathway forward is by implementing connection, expectation, and purpose.  

The first is about connection. It’s about giving young people a place where they feel like they belong, so they don’t feel alienated in this world especially when it’s going to happen. It’s part of growing up. Your entire social life at some point is going to come crashing down upon you. I mean that’s part of what it means to be a teenager. I remember those moments distinctly. Having a place where you feel like you belong and that you can turn to in a community who knows you and cares about you unreservedly is critical. We’ve written about the complex process of belonging before, and there are some clear steps that people can take to foster belonging among young people in their organizations. 

The second is about expectation. Expectation is a little bit more complex. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance that young people experience in many of the organizations where they must involve themselves, especially schools, where they know what the expectations are — they’re very clear. And yet they’re not necessarily given the tools to meet those expectations. 

And in many cases, they are given a set of tools and told that the set of tools will lead to the expectations that they’re supposed to get. They’re given a tutor, and they’re told, if you go to this tutor, it will help you get the grades that you’re expected to get. But those tools don’t always line up with those expectations. When those tools are used and they don’t lead to the kinds of outcomes that are expected, young people start to internalize that. Why can’t I do this thing that I’m supposed to be able to do, even with these resources? Now, sometimes it’s because young people aren’t doing all the work that they need to do, which needs to be noted. But a lot of times it’s because the tools are not really aligned with the outcome we’re trying to get young people to achieve.  

In churches a lot of times this looks like theologies. In the theology in some places, you’re expected to be caretakers of creation, but the congregation isn’t concerned about the climate crisis that young people feel so acutely. So, they’re trying to wrap their heads around this theology that seems to not care about consumption or is not pointing a finger at consumption or having anything to say about it along with this expectation that they’re supposed to care about creation. That doesn’t make any sense to them. The more we can align those or reduce cognitive dissonance, the more we support young people in their mental health.  

The last one is a sense of purpose. Do you feel like you are a part of something bigger than who you are alone? Do you see your story as being wrapped up in a story that transcends time and space and at least you and your neighborhood and your local community? Living with a sense of purpose is foundational to overall flourishing, to discerning the right decision in each situation, and ultimately to mental health.  

Doug Powe: In The State of Religion & Young People 2022: Mental Health — What Faith Leaders Need to Know, there’s a section on what faith communities should know. In that section, you talk about notice, named, and known. Let’s focus on known for a minute. How is it that particularly faith communities can really get to know people when it’s only a virtual space they may have access to? 

Josh Packard:  Notice, named, and known are the three steps toward creating belonging. Virtual is brand-new territory for cultivating a sense of belonging. One thing we’ve learned from young people is they love for you to show up in virtual spaces if you can show up authentically. All young people seem to have a keen sense of when adults are trying to put one over on them, and their default assumption may be that adults are always trying to put one over on them. So, when you show up there in those spaces jumping on the latest trends but it’s not really who you are, they see right through that.   

We should take their online lives seriously. About a year ago a young person told me after a presentation, “when the adults in my life dismiss my online life, they disqualify themselves from the conversation of my life.” I thought that was such a poignant statement. I asked her to explain more about what she meant. “Look, not everything that we do there is important. Most of it, in fact, is not important, but a lot of it is really important. We are turning to places like TikTok and Instagram and social media to explore what Diwali is.” They’re not going to Wikipedia, and a lot of them don’t live in very diverse communities. They’re going online to find out what Diwali is or what Rosh Hashanah means or the difference between Hanukkah and Christmas, for example.  

They are doing a lot of religious exploration, and their online lanes are wildly diverse. I think it’s not so much if you should be there and be one of those diverse sources. I suppose if you had the institutional capacity to do it and you’ve got somebody who understands that well and you want to do it, fine. More than anything, there’s an opportunity to engage them in real life conversations about what’s going on in their social media. And those can start small, but they often are a gateway to talking about bigger and further explorations.  

One of the things we asked my 12-year-old son every week is: what’s the most interesting thing you saw on YouTube this week? It’s the only “social-ish” media that he’s allowed to use. We wouldn’t dare let him on Instagram or Facebook or anything else. We started having those conversations as the beginning of the steps into what’s catching his attention, and it tells us if you’re paying attention to that Why. What kinds of questions are you asking? It becomes the gateway to these kinds of questions. We can use social media as a way to have a presence that helps to shape the narrative or almost like a foil against which to help shape our interactions with young people. We shouldn’t dismiss them. 

Doug Powe: As we get ready to bring this to a close, I want you to share with our listeners with what really struck you in putting the annual report together?  

Josh Packard: I was a faculty member for a while, and we always used to see mental health issues, mental illness, as a barrier to doing the thing that we were supposed to do. I asked: can we get our students some more support so we can get back to the real task of them learning? 

I’m not sure that’s necessarily the wrong approach to take in that setting. But what we learned from putting together The State of Religion and Young People was that it might be the wrong approach to take in a faith-based setting where it is: can we deal with these mental health things so we can get back to the issue of faith formation that we’re really supposed to be here for? What we saw in the data was that engaging young people authentically and relationally and putting real resources into their mental health communicates a care and concern on behalf of religious leaders and adults for young people that young people often assume isn’t there. So, doing one is in service of the other. This is not simply can we deal with this and move on to the real work? In many cases, if you do it right, this can be the real work of showing what faith looks like in action. For example, a term that Christians a lot of times use is being the hands and feet of God, and young people are shockingly lacking in those examples in their lives. I think that this can be a pathway towards that if we take it really seriously. 

Blinded by Smoke and Mirrors

Blinded by Smoke and Mirrors
by Kathryn Donev

We are not to mess around in any way, shape or form with any type of witchcraft or divination. This is a command that the Bible is super transparent about. There is no question whether or not it’s okay. In Exodus we are told not to tolerate a sorceress or a woman that has magical powers or paranormal abilities. In Leviticus it is clear that we are not to practice divination or fortune soothsaying. The message is so direct that in Leviticus 20:27 it says that a man or a woman who has a ghost or a familiar spirit shall be put to death; they shall be pelted with stones. Not just a slap on the wrist or a gentle verbal scolding. And I don’t know about you, but to me, being stoned to death is a dreadful way to die.

In Deuteronomy 18:10-11 it says, “Let no one be found among you who consigns a son or daughter to the fire, or who is an augur, a soothsayer, a diviner, a sorcerer, one who casts spells, or one who consults ghosts or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the dead”. There is no question about it. These practices are all wrong. Period. End of story. No debate. No talking your way out of it. It can’t get any clearer. We know what will happen if we are tempted with this nonsense. Remember what happened to Aarons sons when they played with false fire. There are no second chances, and the consequence is for an eternity. Division from Christ. No eternal life. No Heavenly reward. It is serious. It’s not a game. Right? Are we clear to this point? Of course we are.

But are we really clear? All this stuff was surely just in Biblical times. Does Hocus Pocus exist today? Nah, it’s a fictional movie that’s no big deal to watch time and time again. We are surely strong enough to resist the indoctrinating. But are our children?  We allow them to watch “The Little Mermaid” and suppress the small detail that one of the characters is a sea witch. HELLO… Identifying with such has become popular to the point we ignore when our children mark their foreheads with lightening bolts.  Really!  An iconic symbol of danger. In what reality is this okay? And I’m not even going to go down the rabbit trail of all the dark children’s songs we sing where babies are falling from trees and children are plagued with rings around the rosies.

The entertainment industry has completely enchanted us.  They no longer even attempt to hidе the fact that they are bewildering with hidden agendas.  Agendas that confuse.  Right is wrong and wrong is right.  Good is bad and bad is good.  But woe to those that do this. We first ignore the evil, then we tolerate, then we promote it and then make fun of the people that still call evil, evil. But that’s okay.  Make fun of me if you wish. Call me strange.  I think protecting my family is more important than the opinion of others.

But,  All Saints Day Eve T-shirts that say “I eat children” or “You put a spell on me” are just for humor. Haunted houses with ghosts, goblins and much more horrific monsters are merely for the thrill.  Toy cauldrons that are paired with a mystical plushie that can help you cast a spell and the classical magic 8 ball that help you predict the future are just so cool.  If all these are for entertainment purposes only; it surely can’t go against God’s Word. Well in Act, Elymas became temporarily blind when he performed magic. I think this might be a clue whether or not it’s an okay thing to do. Simon in the New Testament did magic like he was God. He tried to transcend the Truth, but his heart was not right. This still happens today in many places including heavily in the territory of Cyprus. The occultic influence is so burdensome that it is hard to break through the spirit of oppression and depression.

We are so blinded that we don’t even think when we say things like “mumbo, jumbo” which comes from the African term for a male masked dancer of arcane rituals. We loosely say, “It’s not in the cards”. Well duh….this is referring to a fortune teller’s reading. Tarot cards and ouija boards are no game. We might should read about King Saul’s experience when he sought out a medium at Endor. It’s real stuff you do not want to tangle with. Demons are real. And they will control your life every chance they get. Even worse, they will prow on the innocent and malleable minds of our children.

We have been so blinded by false mysticism that we have lost sight of Biblical truths.  Yes, the Bible still has truths and not suggestions.  So why do we think it’s okay to read fantasy stories that promote these distorted practices. We think it’s okay to dabble with the dead because it’s just a silly graveyard game and we all know that zombies aren’t real. We think it’s not a problem to use the ghost filter because they are so cute like fluffy marshmallows. Paranormal cartoons and TV series that promote attractive vampires are harmless. Anime is an innocent escape from reality in which we can create a distinction between real world and make-belief violence, sexual content and Japanese influences. And let’s not forget the fashionable witch and wizard hats. It’s no big deal to dress up in a costume.  It’s only once a year. And goth is only dark clothes, right?  But these are all so far from the truth.  If your child is wearing dark clothes, dark make-up and bondage accessories, don’t ignore their cry for non-judgmental inclusion.  It’s a slipper slope. 

Jannes and Jambres who opposed Moses in front of the Pharaoh were only deceivers, corrupt in the minds and worthless in the faith. I personally don’t want to be considered a deceiver, or corrupt or worthless. I want my heart to be in the right place. I choose life in Christ. I will do my best to be separate from these contrary beliefs and practices. I don’t even want to be tempted with the euphoric “pleasures” that they are thought to bring. No looking back, forward we must go. Undistracted by smoke and mirrors.

I will maintain claim to my family and my territory. It is true that we are to love everybody, but when we allow  wicca influences to come into our community and begin to bewitch with innocent terminology like “apothecary”, “mood balancing” “centering” then we should be alert. Their idea of “alter” is not a Godly one. It’s definitely not a southern phrase when they say “blessed.” Astrology is not just looking at the stars either. Charms are not just cute trinkets and crafting is not an art project. God is the maker of all things. The moon, stars and all of nature belongs to Him and should be cherished as intended. Bodies grounding and moving to find peace should be center in Christ and not in Hinduism, Buddhism or Jainism.  This is a warning to remove the blinders before there is no chance to turn back. Wake up people! Protect yourself and your family.

The Harvest is Plentiful…

June 30, 2024 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News

Bulgaria: Another Expert Cabinet, Sets GERB Dominance

June 25, 2024 by  
Filed under Featured, News

Boyko Borissov announced that GERB will begin negotiations for an expert cabinet and majority starting Monday. He insists that the government will only be formed with the first mandate, dominated by his party, and that the prime minister, foreign minister, and defense minister must be from GERB. Borissov himself will not run for prime minister to facilitate the negotiations. If these conditions are not met, Bulgaria will head to another election in September.

There will be a government if the prime minister is from GERB. I will not run for prime minister to ease negotiations,” Borissov clarified. He announced a negotiating team comprising Temenuzka Petkova, Raya Nazaryan, and Denitsa Sacheva, with negotiations starting on Monday. Borissov believes the first mandate is the only chance to form a cabinet, warning that failure to do so will lead to September elections.

Borissov justified the need for GERB‘s dominance in the cabinet by stating that he cannot explain to his supporters why GERB, having won the elections again, should cede key ministerial positions. He confirmed that Mariya Gabriel will not be part of the cabinet and emphasized that GERB will not form a coalition with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), despite past collaborations on various topics.

Borissov stressed the need for a government within the next seven days, warning of the exhaustion caused by repeated elections. He expressed respect for President Radev but highlighted the importance of avoiding institutional confrontations. Borissov also commented on the resignation of “Yes, Bulgaria” leader Hristo Ivanov, expressing regret and emphasizing the need for statesmanship over ego in these times.

PENTECOST NOW!

June 20, 2024 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, Missions, News

Enemy still talking trash?

June 15, 2024 by  
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GERB Leads Election with 68 Parliamentary Seats

June 10, 2024 by  
Filed under Featured, Media, News

Bulgaria: GERB Leads with 68 Deputies as Election Commission Confirms Parliamentary Seats

The Central Election Commission (CEC) has announced the mandates for the parliamentary parties in the 50th National Assembly of Bulgaria. GERB will have the most deputies, with a total of 68. The second-largest parliamentary group will be the DPS with 47 deputies, followed by “We Continue the Change – Democratic Bulgaria” (WCC-DB) with 39. “Revival” will have 38 deputies, while the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) will have 19.

The “Greatness” (Velichie) party will have the smallest parliamentary group, with 13 deputies. “There is Such a People” (TISP) will have 16 representatives, though their leader, Slavi Trifonov, will not be among them, as he was removed from the candidate lists by the CEC after submitting an application.

The CEC also reviewed and approved the analysis of inconsistencies after re-entering and comparing data from the sectional election commissions with the district commissions. Four elected members of the European Parliament have opted to remain as MEPs instead of joining the National Assembly: Hristo Petrov from WCC-DB, Ivaylo Valchev from TISP, Kristian Vigenin from BSP, and Stanislav Stoyanov from “Revival.” The CEC has fulfilled their requests and removed them from the parliamentary lists.

In addition to Slavi Trifonov, the CEC accepted applications from four DPS candidates and one from GERB who did not wish to be declared as elected deputies and subsequently removed them from the lists. Elected representatives from two multi-mandate regions must declare to the CEC by tomorrow from which region they wish to be declared deputies.

 

1 didn’t listen…

June 5, 2024 by  
Filed under Events, Featured, News

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