- Editor’s Preface
- Sept-Dec, 1983
- Dec, 1983-June, 1985
- June, 1985
- July, 1985
- July-Dec, 1985
- Jan-May, 1986
- June-Dec, 1986
- Jan-Sept, 1987
- Sept-Dec, 1987
- Jan-Feb, 1988
- April, 1988
- October, 1988
by Catherine Hampton of REVEAL
The following is the text of a long email which Gintas Jazbutis, a former member of the Poway/Mission/San Diego Church of Christ, sent to Richard Helmbrecht, another former ICC member, a couple of years ago. I edited it, primarily to add navigation aids, and also to clean up a few typos and some file corruption that crept in over time. I’ve added a few links to ICC-specific (or, in this case, discipling movement specific) terminology in the Glossary of ICC Terms, but otherwise Gintas tells a remarkably clear story that needed little editing.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Gintas Jazbutis)* To: email@example.com (Richard Helmbrecht) Subject: Why I left the Boston Movement
*Please note that this email address is no longer valid. Gintas may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The first thing I must clarify is that I didn’t leave — I was kicked out. Here is how it happened. While this happened almost eight years ago, my memory is clear on many things; I am known to have a memory like a steel trap.
I was introduced to a mainline Church of Christ during my time at Virginia Tech. I was converted in December. The brother who studied with me (Ken K., now in the Louisville ICC) said I was “an Ethiopian eunuch,” meaning I was very open to the gospel. [cf. Acts 8:26-39] My roommate, Carl K., Ken’s younger brother, also was converted. We had known each other since 7th grade, been friends since 10th grade, and had formed a solid friendship that lasts to this day.
The church campus group had a number of students who embraced the Crossroads discipling approach. I was among this group; in fact, I was drawn to this group. What impressed me most was the earnestness with which they pursued Jesus. They were passionate in their Bible study and prayer, and devoted to applying what they learned. We listened to seminar tapes, went to seminars, and in general tried to practice discipleship, with varying degrees of success. We had a Bible Study, and the campus group had a good growth year.
One day, John I. got a few of us together and suggested we try to spread the zeal to the entire college group. Generally, this involved sharing with people scriptures we’d been studying, and trying to have deeper spiritual conversations. Frederic B. resented our “jamming the Bible in his face” (more or less, not a direct quote) and we were rebuked by the campus minister. I was aghast, and couldn’t believe he had taken it personally (I was not the culprit in that instance). I slowly determined that most of the people in the church were lukewarm, though well-intentioned. Once I asked Ken K why people who had grown up in the church were not as “fired up” as us former-heathens. He said that wasn’t necessarily true, look at Richard Rogers. [Richard Rogers is a prominent evangelist in the mainline Church of Christ.] I came away unconvinced — the exception proved the rule.
The church we were at, the Blacksburg Church of Christ, was labeled a “Crossroads Ministry” by a neighboring church (Christiansburg CoC). We in the campus group got a good laugh, as we knew we were far from being so (though deeply wanting to be). In my job search, Ken K. encouraged me to look for work in cities where there was a “discipling ministry” with over 100 converts the previous year (meaning, these churches were most likely to be “alive”). This made sense to me, so I adopted the strategy.
Near the end of my time at Va. Tech, Danny D. was hired as campus minister. We began a friendship that has lasted to this day. Danny was particularly impressed by this bright, young, eager, Christian who was hungry to grow, pestering him with questions about everything spiritual.I found a job in San Diego, CA, where the Mission Church of Christ was, working for General Dynamics, Convair Division, in spite of efforts to get a job in Boston. (It seemed clear to us that Boston was where “it was happening.”)
My roommate Carl K. went to graduate school at LSU in Baton Rouge, LA. We kept in touch over the years, providing a valuable “outside” influence in my life. In this short time, I managed to read the entire Old Testament of the Bible.
After graduation, three brothers and I road tripped from Washington, DC, to Boston, to visit the church (a pilgrimage, you might say). A friend we knew from Va. Tech (John I.) had moved to Boston and was our point of contact. My good friend Carl K. deliberately buttoned the top button of his flannel shirt “just to see what they’ll do.” John I. introduced us to brothers at whose apartment we were to stay; one instantly reached over to Carl K’s shirt, unbuttoned the top button, and said, “We’ll disciple that out of you, brother!” Years later, Carl K told me that tipped him off to what was going on. At the time, I just thought it was bold.
The house church we visited was an outgoing zealous group. The lesson was on obeying your leaders in matters of opinion (after all, the Bible speaks clearly on some things, so obedience to leaders is expressed in matters of opinion — huh!).
I moved to San Diego and contacted the church office. The secretary gave me the name of some single brothers who led Bible studies. I called one (Rich S.), and he came and picked me up to go to his study that night and meet some of the guys. This was the second day I was in San Diego.
That night, I met a fellow (George D.) who undertook to disciple me, on his own initiative. He invited me to stay at his house the coming weekend to get involved, get to know people, etc. I ended up living in that house until the end of the year.
The first Saturday, we went to a mall “blitzing,” that is, meeting masses of people and inviting them to our Bible Study in rapid succession. My performance led our study leader (Rich S.) to say I was “an evangelistic machine.”
My dad had died just before I moved out to San Diego; thus, I had major stress causers: change in career (from school to work), major loss, move away from home, etc. Thus, the transition was rough. In general I need about eight hours of sleep a night to function well; with stress, maybe more. In the Mission church, six was the norm. A number of brothers made it harder. Steve P. really helped, as his mom had just died, and we could commiserate.
We were supposed to get up early to have our quiet times. It was all I could do to get up to get ready to go to work. My discipler, George D., got by on four hours of sleep a night! I thought it hilarious how he’d fall asleep doing his stretching excercises in the morning, or while standing in front of the mirror in the morning, or while conversing with me at night. So he really had a number of cat-naps to catch up on sleep. We car-pooled to work. He would ask me to read something, anything, from the Bible. I would read, in a dull monotone voice (I am not a morning person). Later, we would laugh when he told me he was having his quiet time right then! George ended up being the best friend I had there, he just had some humorous eccentricities.
One day, I decided I needed a nap after work; a roommate (Matt N.) came in and said, “Get up, you sluggard.” I just ignored him. I once rebuked Matt for stopping to get coffee, even though we were late going somewhere. Matt was a petty officer in the navy, and those guys had coffee mugs fastened securely to their hands. I suggested he was addicted to caffeine. He said, in classic addict-ese, “I can give it up anytime I want to.” I asked, then why didn’t he? He said, “Because I don’t want to.” Much later, after we had moved to different places, I found out he had given up coffee because he was addicted.
Of course, when Matt moved up in leadership, I always thought how he had blown me off because I was a nobody, even though I had been right. (Maybe he thought about what I said, and after a long time, did something?).
When Matt was a house church leader a couple of years later, he bit one of my roommates on the arm, leaving an ugly bruise. The guy definitely wasn’t happy about it. I saw Matt at church and got on his case, but he blew me off, laughing.
I was amazed at how so many people in general were irresponsible and immature, even leaders. I realized that responsibility and maturity weren’t criteria for leadership (huh!). George D developed in me an aversion to leadership as a goal in my life; he talked how he didn’t want his name on the back of the bulletin (Bible Study leaders were listed on our weekly bulletin), how he was just content to labor in anonymity. He didn’t want glory from men, just God’s pleasure. He really lived it out, too. He worked harder than anyone, and was the most humble guy I’ve known. He’d always admit his own mistakes and faults. We had a few rows over things, and he’d always let us cool off, then he’d come apologize. He always made things right. That’s how I came to respect him. Plus, he was a great teacher, in that he’d always explain in detail how he did things, and why. He was open about his motivations, and his struggles with the praise of men (all ex-members of ICC know about that). But he never moved up in leadership, because he didn’t get many visitors to come to anything.
I knew that leaders had a tough job, trying to keep everybody going, keeping things happening, dealing with all sorts of problems and irresponsible people. Of course, that will happen when you’re making converts out of the world. I found many leaders to be cold and aloof toward me. I ended up making friendships with “nobodys”, and we had a lot of fun. I met a lot of good people, it’s just too bad how so many were caught up in the leadership “rat race.”
I had not studied my Bible much for a while (since I couldn’t stay awake in the morning), so I decided to study it in the evening. Unfortunately, I chose prime-time hours to do it; prime-time was dedicated to going out evangelizing. George D. caught me not going out blitzing, and wondered what was going on. I explained to him, how could I share the good news when I hardly knew what it was anymore? He merely encouraged me to try to study early in the morning. I remember the preacher talking about his hour-long quiet times early in the morning, watching the sun rise over the hills in his back yard. I remember replying in my mind, “Yeah, and I was in a traffic jam at that time!” It was all I could do to get up and get to work, because as soon as I was home, it seemed like we were on the run. We stopped only long enough to hit the sack for a short night’s sleep — never enough for me. After a long time of sleep deprivation, I was sluggish, fuzzy-minded, and humorless.
Dating was very interesting. I had sworn to be like Paul — single, unencumbered. Well, I was told I would indeed date, so get on the horn (phone)! This for a total geek, who’d only had a couple of dates ever. You can imagine how I sweated. In retrospect, it was the best thing they could have done for me socially, since I was later able to find a lovely and gracious lady for a wife.
I called a sister for a date late one afternoon, but she wasn’t in. To keep from having to call her repeatedly until she got in, I left a message for her to call me back. She did later, but she already had a date. George D. corrected me, in that “brothers always initiate.” I said I had. George brought in another roommate and he tried to explain what I did wrong. I remained unconvinced. I now know that all I did wrong was to break a sacred dating rule, which later changed. I was just ahead of the game (a no-no!).
Our Bible Study decided to have a date night. This was where the whole study got dates, and got together for dinner and amusement at our spacious house. One of the amusements was a Bible trivia game. Having read the whole Old Testament, and having remembered much of it, I cleaned up. Jeff B., who was the singles minister, was there, and mentioned to me how I knew the Bible better than most of the leadership. Pretty heady stuff for someone not even two years into Christianity! Pretty scary, too, in what it said about the leadership.
Gordon Ferguson and Gregg Marutzky were our evangelists. The elders, Ron Brumley and George Havins, had essentially pushed out Andy Lindo (he went off to Boston for “further training”) and hired a couple of guys with traditional, mainline Church of Christ background, to try to mellow things out a bit. It was working. By the end of the year, the church was growing, and things seemed great. I was moving out of the house into an apartment with three other brothers, none of whom were caustic, leadership-hungry types.
I moved into an apartment, a 2-bedroom job with four guys in it. Talk about claustrophobia! George slept on the floor in our bedroom — anytime I’d walk in there, he’d jokingly say, “get off my bed.” The tight quarters led to a lot of tension. They packed us in there, hoping one of us would rise up to be the leader. Instead, we were miserable. To add to that, it had the longest street name in history, making forms a nightmare to fill (10303 Rancho de los Penasquitos Boulevard, Apt 3-d, or something close). Anyway, the church was changing its tone, moving away from the “Andy Lindo regime,” as George put it. George suggested once that he, I, and a recent convert, Bob K., go off and start our own church. I thought he was crazy, and told him so. Anyway, he was glad to see things soften up a bit. Nevertheless, the church kept right on growing.
In classic movement fashion, just as we had each other’s foibles figured out, and compensated for them, we were uprooted and moved to new places. I moved into a condo with three other brothers. What was really surprising was that we all had our own bedrooms! This is quite a treat in the movement. This was a great time. Our Bible Study was doing well, the church was doing well, people I was discipling were doing well, I was doing well (so my discipler was not grilling me).
Well, maybe it wasn’t all great. Some people had gone to London’s 1985 Hope campaign (mass evangelism), and church leadership decided we would have one in San Diego in 1986. So we did. It was a grueling three weeks. If you could take time off from work, you did. Fortunately, I couldn’t, so I got some much needed rest at work. We would work all day, then grab a quick meal, then go door-knocking or blitzing for 2-3 hours in the evening. Tuesdays and Thursdays we had zone meetings. People who took time off from work door-knocked all day long. On Saturdays, all us working stiffs joined in all-day door-knocking. All I could remember was suffering from mind-numbing fatigue at work, and longing for the end. Any open time was used for studying with people. I can’t say the campaign was all that successful, but it wasn’t a bust. (OK, our tails were busted.)
After the campaign, things were back to normal, and they went great to the end of the year. I took a liking to one gal in the college group, but was intimidated by the hoops through which one had to jump! One might as well climb Mt. Everest tomorrow, for all the ease of the task of finding a mate in the church at that time. I’ve mentioned one dating incident I had. I didn’t have any other major incidents, because I was a good trooper, but the rules seemed rigged to keep us all single until we’d converted several people. First, you had to be a leader to get married; you never saw a common stiff get married (I think this was a way to motivate people to try to become leaders, that is, evangelize more). Second, there was this progression you had to go through; first, date once every other month, then once a month, then once every three weeks, then every other week, then every week (and you were going “steady”). Then you had to go steady for a year before you could get married. For a bunch of testosterone-mad men, two years seemed like eternity (two years was the general time from the first date to the wedding; interestingly, that’s about right if you want to know someone well enough). Maybe it was just hard for me, since I didn’t find many women who were all that intriguing to me (there were a few). (One roommate was always extolling the virtues of one sister who didn’t interest me, by telling me, “She’s submissive!” Great selling point.) This progression had to have approval of your discipler at every step. Once you got to every three weeks, the singles minister was in on it. But I went out on a date just about every weekend. It was good for me anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, for I was non-social before I got to the San Diego church.
This was the big year, a roller coaster. In January, I felt strangely burnt-out. I’d been working hard, but now nothing was happening. I felt a malaise. I read 1 Cor. 15: 10, where Paul talks how God’s grace motivated him to work harder than anyone else. I flashed back to the 1985 Berkeley seminar. One class I went to was taught by some guy with a German name who was going on the Munich mission team. The class was called “Keys to Abundant Fruitfulness.” Sounds pretty typical, huh? The material was most atypical. He talked about God’s grace, of all things. I bet it’s the last time that it was discussed in depth in the history of the movement. He recommended everybody do a study of Galatians. “Get these books: Liberated for Life, by John MacArthur, and Galatians, a Self-Study Guide, by Irving Jensen. Get these and read them (in the self-study guide’s case, go through it).” So in January of ’87, I started. Boy, was I in trouble! Here I was, moving into a study of God’s grace, and at the same time, the church leadership was starting to get “discipling” from Boston. Can you see something coming?
What I did was to read Galatians through every day for a month (just to get familiar with the book). Then I started MacArthur’s book. Then I worked on the self-study guide. To finish all that took me more than half of the year. In May, a roommate and I went on a vacation. We drove to the mountains, and to the Sequoia National Forest. That was quite a sight. Then we went to San Francisco and did the tourist thing. To top it all off, we went to the San Francisco seminar. We were so pumped up, we burst. We went street-preaching by the cable cars, and jammed on the local pagans. All the classes and messages were great.
That summer, we had another massive evangelistic campaign. This one wasn’t nearly as arduous as the year’s before; probably because I was in the chorus, going around doing fun things (singing at different zone meetings, singing at malls). I even took a week off from work, and got into the all-day door-knocking thing. I was feeling motivated and energetic and effective. Besides, I was learning some heavy stuff in Galatians about legalism and great stuff about grace. I had a sneaking suspicion we were a tad bit legalistic.
Two incidents in the campaign stand out. At our Bible Study, a brother and I were chatting with a visitor. He asked about the Catholic church. Having been a Catholic, I just kind of rolled my eyes, and said, “It’s a long story.” The brother I was with had been a complete heathen. He was undaunted, and launched into a description of the hierarchy, the power structure, etc. After the study, I took this brother aside and noted how he had perfectly described our own church. He didn’t know what to say to that.
During the campaign, I got a packet from my old friend Danny D from Va. Tech, who was now in Los Angeles. He had sent me a draft copy of a booklet he had written. When I opened it, I groaned. It was entitled Legalism in the Discipling Ministries. I thought, what is he stirring up? Well, that night I read it straight through, and he was coming straight out of Galatians. He was right on the mark; I couldn’t refute what he was saying. He described several incidents in a church planting where he had been that raised the hair on my head. With what I had been learning on my own from Galatians, this book completed the set of nails needed for my coffin. I soon realized, if things don’t change, I’m a goner.
That year, also, Gordon Ferguson announced that we would start getting “discipling” from Boston. I knew what that meant. In July, the Atlanta-Highlands church in Atlanta, Georgia, was turned upside-down. I was getting the Boston Bulletin, and when I read the one describing the events in Atlanta, thought it odd. They must be having some serious problems there. But how are they having serious problems? If they’re anything like us in San Diego, they’re cranking! Don’t we have the same philosophy? And isn’t Sam Laing the evangelist? I went, “hmm….”, filed it away in my mind, and went about my business.
Then in September, the Berkeley church was “reconstructed.” If you can get a hold of the bulletin (probably in Jerry Jones’ Boston books), the Kipster proclaimed what had happened, and how all the staff resigned, etc. He mentioned how evangelists appointed in San Francisco would now be recognized around the world by all the Boston plantings, and I thought, “Ho, ho, Kip’s a pope!” I didn’t think that exactly, but I thought I saw a trend developing — a dangerous one. It looked like all the things I didn’t like about the movement were growing or moving to an extreme. I’d had some problems, but they just seemed niggling little things. Now it seemed that a clear power structure was being set in place–by the fellow at the top! I certainly didn’t want this church to become the Catholic church. I mentioned this offhand to my discipler (who was the Bible Study leader).
I knew my number was coming up. A roommate (Bob K.) who had insights into the church that I could not explain away left. He saw through the legalism, the superficiality, the leadership-mongering. I tried to defend the church, but with a water pistol — no real ammo. I was becoming convinced in my own mind he was right. He said it was a yuppie church. If you didn’t make converts, you were a slacker. You had to have the right personality. If you showed up at all the functions, everything was hunky-dory, but if you miss something, you must be struggling. That everybody but him had it all together,so he didn’t belong. Then he left. I remember shaking my head, thinking, he’s right, he’s right, so what am I doing here? Pathetically hanging on, waiting for the axe to fall.
There was a brother (Rob C.) in the Bible Study who was pathetically immature. He wanted to be a mechanic. He arranged to rebuild someone’s VW engine. He took it to the car place and had them do it. He got $600 from the VW owner; this money promptly disappeared. I wouldn’t have given a rip, except I was asked to kick in $200 so this brother could get this VW engine back. I did it, but wondered, “Where’s the accountability?” This guy just blew $600 somewhere, and I had to help cover his tail. It was hard, because he was so irresponsible. Plus, ta-da, he was a roommate.
Rob C. was having struggles spiritually, as we said. That is, no visitors at Bible Study for a long time. So he asked if he could take a diesel mechanics course at the local junior college instead of going to Bible Study (there was a time conflict). I thought, sure, why not, he’s not doing diddly squat, plus he could use some job skills to get out of the courier job he had (he wanted to bea mechanic). The task I was given by our Bible Study leader was to call his boss and find out if this class would really help his career. His boss sounded surprised at my question (“I’m a friend of his, and I was wondering if you could tell me if this course will really help him any?”), and I immediately felt used. I was used to do the dirty work. I felt ashamed of what I had done, and even worse that night when he came home and ripped me, ripped the church, and bailed out. He left his broken-down car in the carport, and we had it towed into oblivion. He was right, of course, in the things he said. We had subjected him to a great indignity. I was Big Brother.
One time I wanted him to do something, so I asked him if he wanted to be a servant. He looked at me cooly and said, what do you want me to do? That cut me, because it exposed how I was trying to manipulate him. He was immature, but not stupid.
Then the church leadership announced that there was going to be a reconstruction in December. I knew the jig was up, but maybe I could hang around? Maybe it wouldn’t be all that bad? I decided to wait and see.
In December, the Kipster rocked and the church rolled — over. Tom Brown was there. Some Boston guys were coming in — Bruce Williams and Dave Weger — and Kip and Tom were slashing and burning a path. Yet, the reconstruction “workshop” was a complete let-down for me; I thought I’d hear some radical new things, but instead we got the party line, the same line it had more or less been for years, only a lot louder. I wondered what was really up, they didn’t come out here to tell us this? (Maybe they just wanted to visit San Diego at church expense, much nicer than Boston in December, heh, heh.)
Things started to get strange. Guys would get up Wednesday night and yell, er, preach a sermon. They started passing around lists of people who had been baptized; imagine my surprise to find many prominent men and women going down. I thought, these were pillars of the church, and they weren’t saved? Do they not know about God’s grace? I sure did.
As people started going through the “counting the cost,” I was getting scared. Brothers I knew well suddenly had this half-crazed look in their eyes, but were smiling. It was eerie. Men who had been in the military (one a crack paratrooper) talked how they hadn’t gone through anything like this since boot camp, with Drill Instructors yelling in their faces. Worst, you couldn’t talk to people. That was the dead giveaway to me. I can’t talk to my friends? Everybody was being re-baptized. Did no one know the grace of God? Was it that hard to find? One guy talked how he needed our prayers to be broken, oh how badly he wanted to be broken!
Then it was my turn. I walked into a psychologically intimidating situation: three on one. They told me all about me, and revealed the deepest thought and attitudes of my heart! They brought up my past as if God hadn’t, couldn’t possibly have, forgiven me of it, but there it was, pushed in my face. I hadn’t converted enough sharp people. I had really blown it when my dad died (three years before). I was proud of owning a junk-heap for a car. I was proud of my purity (I think it irked them that they couldn’t hammer me on this one). I was this, I was that. I was divisive. Rebellious. Somewhere in there I was a child of the devil himself. I was a dog. No, worse than the lowest, mangiest dog, even destroying the church. Read 2 Tim 3:1-9. They said, that’s me.
I saw the whole thing as an effort to break my will, so they could remold me in their own fashion. They tried to use works to bludgeon me, but I was just done studying Galatians, about grace and works. Their efforts were fruitless. I knew what it meant to be forgiven (can I hear an Amen on that?). I decided I wouldn’t walk away. They’d have to boot me. So I picked a convenient time: the Valentine Banquet (yup, I managed to hang on for two months, pure misery all of it). I just wouldn’t go to the banquet. No date, nothing. I got into an argument with my Bible Study leader right in the zone meeting, how they couldn’t make it a rule that I had to go. He said they could do just as they pleased. So they brought the axe down.
When I was told to leave, I felt such relief. It had been a strain for several months, waiting for the end. The major problems I had at the time were man-made rules, the legalism, and performance-emphasis. I had a problem with the hierarchy. A question I kept asking, and kept having dodged, was “what if my discipler’s wrong?” What recourse would I have to challenge his dictates? Why should I study the Bible if my convictions were worthless, fit only to be trampled?
The next week I moved out, and found another church. This church was the Escondido Church of Christ (Escondido is a city just north of San Diego). They had been one step behind the San Diego church in all that went on. The churches had worked together over the years (in fact, Escondido spawned the Poway/Mission/San Diego Church of Christ). The leadership had met, and the San Diego leaders said, join us, be our North Zone, but all staff must resign and we get to reconstruct you (come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly).
One man, well respected and seasoned, said no. Otherwise they would have done it. But he saw the San Diego church go off the cliff, and said, we won’t follow them. They took a while to figure out what San Diego had gotten into, and what was wrong, and what the alernatives were, but it helped for me to be there to see the process. Meanwhile, we went about evangelizing our city.
I really feel for all those who’ve been mangled by the ICC. The body count is so high, and current members scoff at their own peril. I was fortunate: I had savings in the bank so I could find my own place, I hadn’t alienated my co-workers, friends and family, I had outside contacts, I had a background before I went in that helped me stay on straight. It just wasn’t as intense as I hear it is now. The bruiser was the reconstruction. It’s as if a devil got in and wreaked havoc. If the leaders had planned to make us as miserable as we could be (maybe they did), they couldn’t have done a better job than what happened. And that from a group calling themselves Christians!
I wrote a letter to the elders, the evangelist, my zone leader, and Bible Study leader listing what I saw was wrong with the church and calling them to repent. I heard through the grapevine that that got me officially disfellowshipped/marked. A brother in Escondido told me that that was quite an honor.
I told a brother what happened, and he suggested I write a conciliatory letter to all those I had written before. He said, take a shot, make an effort to make it right. Then they surely will have no excuse — you’ve done all you could, and you can have a clear conscience without the hint of a regret. I apologized for any bitterness I had or problems I had caused, but made no apology for my convictions. I have only heard from one brother since, only to keep in touch, but with nowhere near the closeness we had had.
One of the bizarre after-effects I had was the chronic fear of running into members of the ICC and trying to outdo their accomplishments. For someone who was drawn to the movement precisely because of what they were accomplishing, it’s hard to get over. Until I add this accomplishment to their list:
- spiritual clear-cutting
©1995 by Gintas Jazbutis <email@example.com>. All rights reserved.
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