Rock-Bottom Loser

March 1, 2008 | 44 comments
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An Onion article out today, like most good Onion articles, works off a premise that’s largely true. The headline reads “Rock-Bottom Loser Entertaining Offers From Several Religions” and the money quotes are:

“I’ve finally reached a point in my life where all the big religions want me,” said [Owen] Pritchard, whose two failed marriages and mounting gambling debts have left him penniless and in a state of blind despair. “Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism—you name it, they’ve come to me. I have no job, no family, no direction whatsoever. So right now, I’m totally in the driver’s seat”….

“Obviously, I bring a lot to the table,” Pritchard said. “I’m a broken shell of a man with nowhere else to turn and I will believe just about anything at this point, so if a religion really wants me, they’re going to have to sweeten the pot. For instance, Hinduism is promising me rebirth as a king and the unlocking of all the secrets of the universe. But at this stage, that’s not enough. How about throwing in some final redemption, or a car, or complete and total spiritual transcendence?…

“You’re going to have to do better than eternal life,” Pritchard added. “Everyone’s offering that.” Pritchard has been showered with gifts as the religious institutions attempt to curry favor and sway his decision. He has received a free Book Of Mormon from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a 2008 wall calendar from the Christians, and was even visited at his home by two representatives from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which Pritchard said was flattering, but “came off as a little too desperate”….

Pritchard has recently visited a number of churches, synagogues, and tabernacles to check out the facilities and meet with members of the various belief systems. The Mormons reportedly showed great interest in Pritchard, saying they would be happy to welcome him to their faith, while a Columbus-area priest is rumored to have informed Pritchard that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself “loves” him….

I think many of those who have served missions or worked in some capacity with their ward missionary programs can think of down-on-their luck investigators who plausibly filled this bill. Back on my mission, most areas had eternal investigators along these lines who we’d hit up when we were struggling to find other things to do. I tended to approach these situations optimistically, even when I knew these investigators had just met with Jehovah’s Witnesses and likely had another appointment on the books for next week. Perhaps it was the mere fact that someone was interested in talking with my companion and I after a particularly rough week of tracting, or maybe we were just infused with the hope of baptizing the next poor, shoe-less investigator who would go on to accomplish great things.

Unfortunately, I think I’ve become a little more cynical over the years. I don’t know what the answer is to this sort of sad, satirical commentary. I certainly yearn to reach out to everyone who is down-and-out, but I guess I question, with the limited time and resources we have, how much of our proselytizing efforts should be devoted to those who seemingly require a tremendous amount of work or possibly may have other motives in investigating the Church. My hesitation with this mindset, however, and it’s a big one, is that one of the last baptisms on my mission was an eternal investigator that we almost gave up on.

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44 Responses to Rock-Bottom Loser

  1. George on March 1, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Investigators? What are they? I served my mission in Japan and heard rumours about investigators over in the South American missions, but I can\’t verify any of that.

  2. Ray on March 1, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Threadjack: Which mission, George?

  3. Marc Bohn on March 1, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    George – Funny you should mention Japan, a good friend of mine who served a mission there speaks often about a homeless man he taught and baptized who ended up becoming a solid member of the congregation in that area.

  4. queuno on March 1, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    I served in a South American mission, but I want to echo George. Investigators? People to teach? What are these “investigators” I’ve heard so much about.

    (I served in the lowest-populated and lowest-baptizing SA mission.)

  5. Ardis Parshall on March 1, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Well, if it’s a contest, I’m claiming my French-speaking European mission as the lowest baptizing mission in the world, outside the MTC … and while I was out an elder in the MTC baptized his father, so for a while we didn’t even have that little comfort.

    More on point, I suppose people have to be listening in order to hear, and the down-and-out are more apt to be willing to listen. What we need is an Egyptian-style plague that strikes the productive, well-educated and stable, but only just long enough to get their attention and conversion. Then we need them to go back to being even more productive, well-educated and stable, and truly converted.

  6. Ray on March 1, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    The strongest baptisms of my mission in Hokkaido (Sapporo Mission) were a two-year investigator who also was meeting with the JW (whom everyone thought we should stop teaching) and a 9-year-old boy who let us in because he liked Americans (whose baptism led to the baptisms of his mother and grandmother).

    Otoh, the strongest conversion in our stake last year was an assistant minister at the time of his baptism.

  7. Ben Huff on March 1, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    God loves everyone, and we certainly need to reach out to those who are struggling. What concerns me is how comparatively hard it is for our missionaries to reach people who have friends, jobs, good credit and so forth, because actually, God loves them too!

    When we are having trouble getting the attention of people who are relatively content, I think we need to ask ourselves how well we are really presenting the message. We have a tendency to blame the people who doesn’t listen, rather than considering whether we need to change in order to reach them. Christ left the eternal mansions, took on human form, ministered for three years without a place to lay his head and with people seeking his life, and eventually allowed himself to be hung on the cross and killed, in order to show us his love and his father’s love. He really went out of his way to reach his audience! I think we need to do more.

    I served in the Japan Tokyo South Mission, not exactly an easy place to find people to teach. I did have some great experiences, though. It’s possible to reach very educated, interesting, accomplished, socially well-adjusted people.

  8. Kaimi Wenger on March 1, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    I think there’s a lot to this. In many wards where I’ve lived, a disproportionate number of converts were really high-maintenance. This is a natural fit, of sorts. High-maintenance people in need of help find a community that embraces them as investigators.

    Unfortunately, the honeymoon period isn’t always very long. High-maintenance investigators often turn into high-maintenance members, and ward members are a lot less tolerant at that stage. When we lived in the Bronx, it seemed a lot of new members fit that category. Major problems — health, money, mental, family. Lots of joy at the attention they were given as investigators. Members willing to chip in and help with their problems, spend time with them, and so on. And then they got baptized, and still had the health/mental/money/whatever problems. And after a few months of membership, ward members were no longer willing to give them rides everywhere, to have long talks about health issues, to put up with mental quirks, and so on. And then the person typically became less active in the church, sometimes moving on to another community.

  9. Bookslinger on March 1, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    Was there an upsurge in investigators right after 9/11 ?

    And did more inactives show up at church the next few Sundays?

  10. Ray on March 1, 2008 at 5:50 pm

    Kaimi, I think what you just described is a big part of the mis-perception among many anti-Mormons (including some of those who join and then leave relatively shortly) that we are a cult that practices “love bombing”. I hate that charge, since I think it is not true, but I certainly understand the perception of those who felt loved and accepted and important when they were investigating and then were expected very soon after baptism to be the giver rather than the receiver. It’s much like the new mother who gets casseroles and attention and sympathy for the first week or two, only to have it disappear exactly when caring for the newborn is the hardest – because she now is not a “brand new” mother in the eyes of those around her. They see a diminished need, while she does not. That’s much like what an investigator feels, especially one who still has all the same needs s/he did as an investigator.

    The Church can force maturity in a hurry – much faster than many people can handle, especially if they are not mature when they are baptized.

  11. Bookslinger on March 1, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    1 Corinthians 1,

    26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
    27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
    28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
    29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.

  12. Nate Fuller on March 1, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    Several years back, the missionaries in my singles branch in California managed to baptize two schizophrenic investigators and another with serious emotional issues within a two month span. It made church a lot more interesting I suppose.

  13. Ray on March 1, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    Matthew 9:12-13 includes: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick…I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

    Those who don’t see themselves as sick sinners have a hard time accepting the need for a real Redeemer; those who recognize their sickness and sins accept that need much more readily.

  14. Aaron on March 1, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    I\’ve seen this scenario play out both ways. Sometimes the new, high-maintenance member really does understand the Gospel and is ready to cling to the great hope he or she has found. I think that most members are willing to help for as long as needed given a demonstrated commitment to the principles of the faith. On the other hand, I\’ve seen many more occasions where a high-maintenance person was brought into the Church for the wrong reasons. These are cases where the intent behind Moroni 6:2,3 seems to have been glossed over almost completely. The new members really do need to demonstrate somehow to the existing members that they are determined to serve God to the end. In the quest for baptisms, it is easy to ignore this essential part of the conversion process.

    I\’ve been an elders quorum president three times, including currently, in three different wards. I\’ve had the chance to work with many prospective elders whose connection to the Church was never strong. Sometimes I am concerned that we push for baptisms too quickly. Wasn\’t the fellow who recently shot some missionaries from another faith in Colorado a recently baptized member of the Church? When I read about him it was clear to me that his mental profile was quite similar to that of several people who joined the Church in our area in the last couple of years. I think we may have some room for improvement.

  15. rk on March 1, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    My philosophy of dealing with people such as \”Owen\” was to first ascertain whether they were sincere in their interest. If an investigator would keep appointments, read, pray or attend church they had some interest. I they failed to do all of these it became obvious there was no interest and we dropped them and moved on to greener pastures. Investigators that only showed passive interest were a big waste of time. Dropping them took a lot of faith especially in Scandinavia, but after we did we always found other more promising investigators even in one of the lowest baptizing missions in the church.

  16. queuno on March 1, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    And did more inactives show up at church the next few Sundays?

    We always get a few long-standing members who haven’t been in Church in awhile, the first Sunday after the Dallas Cowboys season ends.

  17. Thomas Parkin on March 1, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    “And then they got baptized, and still had the health/mental/money/whatever problems”

    When they truly become our charge, we can no longer be bothered. How truly pathetic.
    I need to do so much better. :

  18. Thomas Parkin on March 1, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    Where is my HT list?

    Seriously.

    ~

  19. Kevin Barney on March 2, 2008 at 12:28 am

    I saw that article in the Onion, and got a great laugh from it. I think all of us who were missionaries could read it with a sense of recognition.

  20. Marc Bohn on March 2, 2008 at 1:05 am

    Kevin – In case it wasn’t clear, I did think the Onion article was hilarious… in the words of ole’ Homer Simpson “It’s funny because it’s true.”

  21. Kevin Barney on March 2, 2008 at 4:33 pm

    Oh, I didn’t misread you, Marc, I was just agreeing.

  22. Mark IV on March 2, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Did someone say The Simpsons?

    This thread reminds me of the episode where the Reverend Lovejoy loses patience with Flanders and says: “Ned, have you considered joining any of the other major religions? They’re all pretty much the same, you know.”

  23. jrl on March 3, 2008 at 12:30 am

    You know, the Lord knows us individually and he’ll send the right missionaries to the certain “golden investigator” or the “eternal investigator”. I think its just His way of giving His children all the chances possible to receive the gospel.

  24. aloysiusmiller on March 3, 2008 at 9:19 am

    The gospel of repentance is for everyone. When we water down the message of repentance and we don’t teach people to recognize their sins and change their lives through the love of Jesus Christ then we create problems. When we do teach repentance and that message is accepted we get miracles.

  25. claire on March 3, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Aaron, I’m with you brother.
    I think we need to get far, far away from the idea that the faster we baptize an investigator the better. I think a longer the ‘investigation’ period, the more converted the member is.
    I just don’t buy the whole Satan is going to get you idea. I think it’s a justification for dunking people as soon as they possibly would agree to it. And then their names and their kids names are on the church rolls for the rest of their lives…. which becomes a huge burden to local ward members and leaders trying to serve the ‘lost sheep.”

  26. Marc on March 3, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Claire – So do you reject the idea that there is any benefit to baptizing investigators more quickly in order to get them under the protection and promise of the Holy Ghost?

  27. Paul Mouritsen on March 3, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Missionaries are optimistic about how the gospel can change lives. They should be. But perhaps it would be best to temper their enthusiasm by giving bishop’s power to veto or at least delay proposed convert baptisms. Bishops would have a better idea as to whether their wards can handle yet another alcoholic, felonious, drug-addled, schizophrenic, or chronically unemployed member.

    A recent convert in our ward flew into a violent rage in priesthood meeting and began screaming and throwing things. Fortunately, he no longer comes to church because the members are all too terrified to give him a lift. We have had several others who stopped smoking for just a week before being baptized, then fell back into old habits and went inactive. A large portion of the new converts from the last few years are receiving regular church welfare assistance, which is about the only connection they still have with the church.

    The principle of common consent should provide some sort of check on these abuses, but I do not quite have the courage to vote in the negative when we welcome new converts into the ward.

  28. Ray on March 3, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Bishops should be involved in the decision when it comes to the timing of baptisms (at least through the Ward Mission Leader, as outlined in Preach My Gospel), but I have a problem including “the strain on the ward” as a criterion. Imo, all criteria should be connected with one’s conversion and understanding of the basic principles of the Gospel. I just can’t accept anything that systematically makes it easier for a rich, healthy person to join than a poor, sick person.

  29. Darrell on March 3, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    As a Bishop I make it a practice to never try to interfere with a convert baptism–even if I have reservations–beyond a “are you sure this person is ready” question. If the person can answer the interview questions, they are ready in my opinion. Then it is the Priesthood/Relief Society leaders and my responsibility to help the convert become the best member possible. To people that question this I ask: ” Isn’t this person better off now that he/she is a member and has the Gift of the Holy Ghost, has home/visiting teachers, and is a part of the ward family than they were before baptism?” If they come to us broken it is our responsibility to do all we can to help the Lord mend them through the power of the Atonement.

  30. aloysiusmiller on March 3, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    If they come with a contrite heart and a submissive spirit and have repented of their sins then baptism is the prescription. If they are still smoking, still using alchohol, still abusing drugs (prescription or otherwise) still fornicating, still sitting on the couch watching TV when they should be working then baptism is a poison to them and they to the church.

    The only criteria is faith in Jesus Christ and repentance. Don’t shortchange the repentance. The body of the church cannot withstand the infection of the unrepentant.

  31. Ray on March 3, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Has anyone here said anything that shortchanged repentance?

    My biggest problem with the whole discussion of “the drain / strain on the Church” is that it flies in direct contradiction of everything we have in our recorded canon – as well as our pioneer heritage. I don’t care one single, tiny bit about someone’s status or pre-existing condition(s) when s/he enters the waters of baptism – not one bit. If we have moved past the point where we can accept our status as a kingdom of nobodies, we have lost much of what makes the Atonement so powerful – and we have begun our own slow descent into a denial of the power of godliness. Heaven help us if we reach that point.

    If anyone wants to read one of the most profound and moving posts about how we should view those who would be a “strain on the Church”, please read the following:

    http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2007/12/thoughts-on-the-meaning-of-the-birth-of-jesus/

  32. Ray on March 4, 2008 at 12:03 am

    From a comment by Ronan on the above linked thread:

    “We all shouted for joy when contemplating this veil of tears; those of us whose mortal tears are slight would do well to consider the high price paid by others and do all we can to alleviate their suffering.”

  33. norm on March 4, 2008 at 4:02 am

    the biggest crisis of faith i had on my mission came after baptizing a sweet old man–late 60s but seemed much more worn-down that the age would say–in taiwan. he was truly touched by the spirit, repentant and seeking truth. two weeks after his baptism, he had a stroke and was left in a wheelchair.

    the crisis of faith came not from “bad things happening to good people”–but from the fact that as an able-bodied and warm investigator he was welcomed with open arms by the ward: once he was a burden–including in his hour of need (needing an emergency ride to the hospital on, unfortunately, the same sunday an apostle was speaking in a multi-stake conference)–no one could be bothered. he became an unwanted burden and was discarded and abandoned by nearly everyone–except one member who worked in a hospital and, of course, the most wonderful bishop i’ve seen anywhere in the world.

    there was a lot of grumbling about baptizing “burdens” from the other members of that ward, though.

  34. Karen on March 4, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Well Paul, about giving bishop’s power to veto or at least delay proposed convert baptisms-the church used to do that. My husband was investigating in 1975 in Boston. He read the Book of Mormon. He quit fornicating, His grandparents and parents had always owned bars-he was literally raised IN a bar- and he quilt drinking the minute he heard the w of w. The next lesson he took that booze money and paid his tithing-for the year. The ZLs interviewed him and everything was a go. A bishop interviewed him and said he wasn’t ready. He was somewhat insulted, as he had done all that had been asked for weeks.. Last year, 33 years later, we met this bishop again. Turns out he’s a passionate, yelling Italian. He imagined my Norwegian husband did not have a testimony because he was “non-demonstrative”. It was a cultural judgement of outward appearances. My husband was a Branch President 3 years later and has always had a soft spot for “those who strain the resouces of the church.” He is now serving as a singles branch president. Yeah, it’s quite a job. Is it a burden? He doesn’t really look at it that way. He feels, like Darrel, that the gospel changes people. If they haven’t changed yet, we hope they will. The missionaries are comissioned to teach and baptize. Wards are encouraged to fellowship, and of course need to provide new members with a friend, a responsibility, and nourishment with the word of God.

    OTOH, My dad is pure pioneer stock, with mental problems. He screamed and threw things often. He has had quorums who included him and made him somewhat better and quorums who marginalized him and were worse than of no use at all to our family. Because one bishop intervened I ended up at BYU with a life very different from my family of origin. Go home teach that schizo freak. Mayber you can make a difference to his kid. Finally, 15 years ago now, a home teacher got through to my dad . He got some meds that weren’t available for most of his life, and he got his life in order, became a bishop himself and went on a couple of senior missions. Go home teach that schizo freak. Maybe you can make a difference to him that will impact generations. It doesn’t matter whether we are converts or lifers there are those in every unit with special needs. Do you remember every Sunday that you are covenanting to bear the burdens of those who place a strain on you?

  35. Josh Smith on March 4, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    Karen,

    Now I need to find my HT list too. Thanks.

  36. Jonovitch on March 4, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    My home-teaching list consists of one solid active family/household and about seven other unstable, semi- to non-active burdens and losers. I try to at least contact them every month. If I can’t sit down with them in their home, I’ll at least stop by and talk for a minute with them on their doorstep, or talk on the phone for a minute, or at least leave a message. My job is not about the numbers, it’s about bringing those people closer to Christ, in whatever way I can think of.

    I’ve been trying to contact one of the “losers” on my list for two years. Phone messages, front-door magazine/DVD/letter drop-offs, anything. A few weeks ago I left another message for him, and to my amazement, he called me back ten minutes later. That Tuesday, my 15-year-old companion and I visited him in his now-foreclosed home (he’ll be evicted in April).

    His wife had moved out and taken most of the furniture. His daughter now lives in an apartment with her boyfriend and their baby. He cashed out his 401k and got a different job trying to save his home, to no avail. He now has no family, no money, and soon no home. He was in tears when we visited him, and before we left, my 15-year-old companion (himself a convert of just over a year) gave the most simple, beautiful prayer I’ve heard in a long time.

    That’s why we go home teaching. That’s why we keep trying.

    Jon

  37. Cicero on March 4, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    I once had a debate with a companion on my mission about this subject.

    He felt we should just drop those who were not progressing.

    My view was that as long as they were interested (and I’d have the “frank” discussion with them when I explained baptism was our goal) we ought to continue to care for them, and that by doing so we showed God that he could trust us with those he had prepared. If someone expressed interest I’d keep going back, even months later, unless they said they were no longer interested.

    That was how it worked for me anyways. I’d put forth all my efforts, and often they wouldn’t turn up a thing but somehow I’d always end up running into someone to teach. Several times I’d stop by for a 4th or 5th checkback after someone stood us up for the 2nd Discussion, and there would literally be someone else (a friend or neighbor) sitting on the doorstep who was ready to hear a 1st discussion and become a serious investigator.

    My mission was the lowest baptizing in the US (an average of 2 baptisms by the end of your mission), yet I had a lot of baptisms.

    Other missionaries would ask how I found these people, and when I told them they’d all shake there heads and say I was the luckiest missionary ever. I kept pointing out that they ought to work harder with what they have instead of trying to grind out lots of first discussions to find that “golden” investigator, but they never believed me. Only the Mission President and a couple of greenies ever seemed to listen.

  38. Marc on March 4, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Wow. Moving story Jonovitch.

  39. Ray on March 4, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    #36 – Thanks, Jon. My father once was assigned to HT a man who was no longer in our ward – because the man wouldn’t let anyone else into his house. All his other HTs had tried to preach to him about how he needed to step up and quit failing his wife and kids; my dad sat and talked with him about his concerns for his wife and kids and whatever else came up in the conversations.

    That man loved my dad with all his heart – and hated Home Teaching.

  40. Darrell on March 4, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Would that all home teachers were Jonovitch.

    This Sunday a newly reactivated couple asked to see me. As we talked in my office, the husband asked the question, “What will it take to get to the temple?” With a catch in my throat I helped them outline a plan. You see, a year ago, this brother made the statement that as long as I was Bishop he would not darken the doors of the church again. I had confronted this brother about his responsibility as a husband, father, and priesthood holder in a way that he considered too harsh. I admit that I was blunt but I also felt inspired. This family had been a “strain” on the ward and the fast offering funds. He was not living up to his obligation to support his family and I told him so. He left in a huff (though the wife was appreciative). It would have been easy to marginalize this family but fortunately they had a home teacher like Jonovitch. He would not give up on them. Then when the family suffered a tragedy the ward was there for them and attitudes changed dramatically–thanks to the loving care given by this home teacher. We never know how or when the Atonement will change lives. We have to be involved in those lives when the opportunity arrives. If not, I think we will be held accountable for what could have been.

    The highlight of my year so far came when this father gave me a hug at the end of our meeting. Not for anything that I had done but thanks, once again, to a good home teacher who didn’t give up.

  41. Darrell on March 4, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    By the way, I do have permission from this family to share what details I outlined in the above post.

  42. Ray on March 4, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    #40 – Great example of the real struggle in the middle of real life issues. Rarely can these actual situations be addressed properly by some generic, formulaic approach.

  43. JB on March 4, 2008 at 8:28 pm

    A few thoughts to add to the fray:

    1. In the rule of marketing, it takes several times for something to leave an impression enough to act on it. Applying this to the mission field, those \”eternal investigators\” are sometimes some of the best prospects. Sometimes.

    2. In the Book of Mormon we read about tons of examples of people being \”sufficiently humble\” (sorry, without book in hand I can\’t remember the exact phrasing, but that seems close) and ready to hear the Word of the Lord. Though I think the Onion article was more mocking faiths for seeking after the down-trodden, truth is they are more often than not the best contacts since they are seeking answers.

    3. For the record, I had the privilege of baptizing an \”eternal investigator\” in France of all places, and I have met several of the so-called \”down-trodden\” who were converted and have since become incredible LDS members.

  44. Jim Cobabe on March 5, 2008 at 2:13 am

    One of my favorites from the hymnbook is “Ye Elders of Israel”. It perfectly captures the spirit of preaching the Gospel.

    Ye elders of Israel, come join now with me
    And seek out the righteous, where’er they may be:
    In desert, on mountain, on land, or on sea,
    And bring them to Zion, the pure and the free.

    The harvest is great, and the laborers are few;
    But if we’re united, we all things can do;
    We’ll gather the wheat from the midst of the tares
    And bring them from bondage, from sorrows and snares.

    We’ll go to the poor, like our Captain of old,
    And visit the weary, the hungry, and cold;
    We’ll cheer up their hearts with the news that he bore
    And point them to Zion and life evermore.

    Chorus:

    O Babylon, O Babylon, we bid thee farewell;
    We’re going to the mountains of Ephraim to dwell.

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