Mathew Block serves as Communications Manager for the International Lutheran Council. He is also editor of The Canadian Lutheran magazine, and formerly served as Communications Manager for Lutheran Church–Canada.
PRAGUE – Young Lutheran adults across Europe are looking forward to celebrating the 10th annual Corpus Christi conference, set to take place July 23-27, 2018 in Prague. Corpus Christi is an independent Evangelical Lutheran association promoting churchly and biblical renewal among young adults in Europe.
More than 150 people have already registered for the upcoming conference, and the board of Corpus Christi expects a total of more than 200 attendees to come to this year’s event in the Czech Republic. Plenary speaker for the event will be Canadian pastor Rev. Kurt Reinhardt, who will be presenting on the subject of Christian hope. For additional speakers and more information on the schedule of events, visit Corpus Christi’s website here.
Last year’s Corpus Christi conference in Halle, Germany was a huge success with more than 200 attendees. In Lutheran style, the 2017 event celebrated the 500 year anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation with the theme “In Christ Alone.” The conference was well received, especially since it was the first year that attendees were able to use a physical copy of the Lutheran Service Book (LSB). Every day during the week long conference, young adults sung the liturgy, psalms, and Lutheran hymns. The hymnals came as a gift from the International Lutheran Council (ILC).
Participants are eager to use the ILC’s wonderful gift of LSB’s again this coming summer. This year the ILC has agreed to finance ribbons for the hymnals, to assist those not yet familiar with the Lutheran Service Book.
NOTE: The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) recently voted to pursue fellowship with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) during an assembly of the FLM’s Committee of the Highest Leaders. Rev. Dr. Al Collver (Executive Secretary of the International Lutheran Council and Director of Church Relations for the LCMS) was present for the event, and brought the following greetings.
It is a great honor to be here with you today to celebrate your church’s jubilee. I bring you greetings in the name of Jesus, from President Matthew Harrison and from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Congratulations on 150 years as witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Madagascar and to the entire world. The Lord has blessed you greatly. The Missouri Synod will celebrate its 175th birthday in 2022. In advance, I would like to invite you to celebrate our jubilee. Our churches are sisters separated by the ocean, but now is the time to reach out our hands to help one another.
Greetings to the Malagasy Lutheran Church in Jesus’ name and to President David Rakotonirina, who I had the honor of seeing a week ago at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he received a Doctorate of Divinity. We also celebrate Rev. Denis Rakotozafy on receiving his PhD in Missiology. Theological education is important to both of our churches. In the future, we will be offering more scholarships to study and the opportunity to participate in the Lutheran Leadership Development Program. Such cooperation is an opportunity to learn from each other and to share experiences.
Our churches are sisters, in the same family, but separated while we were both young. Now, however, we have found each other as we celebrate important jubilees. We are confessional Lutherans who are faithful to the Bible with a strong Lutheran identity. The Missouri Synod and our partner churches around the world are eager to walk with the Malagasy Lutheran Church. We hope to come closer to you and partner together to bear witness to Jesus Christ throughout the world. We give thanks to the Lord for the Malagasy Lutheran Church and to President Rakotonirina for your friendship and desire to partner with us. As you will hear in a few moments, we in the Missouri Synod and in Europe and North America need you to be witnesses to us.
Let me share this Scripture verse and some brief words of greetings with you: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” — Ecclesiastes 3:1
The Preacher says there is a season for everything. One hundred and fifty years ago, there was a season in Madagascar. It was a season when faithful missionaries from Norway travelled by ship to Madagascar to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The forgiveness of sins in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was preached, people were baptized in the name of the Triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the body and blood of Jesus were given to eat and to drink. Men were trained to be pastors. The Lutheran church in Madagascar grew and was blessed. Today, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM is not only one of the largest Lutheran churches in Africa but in the entire world.
It is true that in the West there are a few Lutheran churches that boast more members than the Malagasy Lutheran Church. But the difference becomes clear when you count by people who come to worship. In Europe, many cathedrals and churches are almost entirely empty on Sunday morning. This increasingly is happening in North America too. But when you come to Madagascar, the churches are full. On my previous visit to Madagascar, the congregation I attended had Holy Communion for more than 7,500 people that Sunday. This is completely unknown in Europe and North America today.
The season has changed in world Lutheranism. Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther almost said the Gospel is a passing rain shower. He wrote: “Let us remember our former misery, and the darkness in which we dwelt. Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s word as it is hearing today; certainly we read nothing of it in history. If we let it just slip by without thanks and honor, I fear we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague. O my beloved Germans, buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there! For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been… And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year” (AE 45:352).
Unfortunately for the West—for Europe and North America—the Gospel of Jesus, specifically the preaching that sins are forgiven, has been like a passing rain shower. Instead of forgiveness of sins in Jesus, many preach human rights, same sex marriage (LBGT), and saving the environment instead of saving people with the Gospel of Jesus. In the West, the Bible is not preached as true and without error. Instead, the Bible is said to contain the Word of God, and is contextualized so that anything you wish to do or say is permitted. As a result, people no longer come to church. This is why the world needs the Malagasy Lutheran Church to remain faithful to the Bible and to proclaim Jesus.
The Malagasy Lutheran Church believes in Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose again on the third day. You teach that the Bible is God’s holy Word. You teach the forgiveness of sin that is found in Jesus, in Baptism, and in the Lord’s body and blood. You have Luther’s Small Catechism. Your church has the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To paraphrase Martin Luther, it is raining in Madagascar like it once did in Europe and North America. Now is the season of growth of the church in Madagascar. Now is the season for evangelism. As it is written in the Book of Acts 1:12, “you shall receive power, after the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and to the distant parts of the earth.” You, the Malagasy Lutheran Church, are Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the earth—even to Europe and North America. You will send missionaries throughout Madagascar and to the farthest parts of the earth—even to Europe and North America. Come bring us the rain of the true Gospel of Jesus, which brings us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
One example of the Spirit of God at work is the Fifohazana, which is usually translated as “spiritual revival” in English. I would like you to understand something about my context. When an American Lutheran hears the word “revival,” he thinks of Baptist or Pentecostal worship. It doesn’t sound Lutheran to an American Lutheran. It is important that you understand this context. However, the Missouri Synod has learned and come to understand that Fifohazana is not a “revival” as understood in the American context. We understand that Fifohazana is instead a spiritual way of life. This reminds us of Martin Luther’s first these of the 95 Theses, “That the entire life of the Christian should be one of repentance.” It is a way of life. We respect your church and your ways. In fact. we have much to learn from you, including learning how to live a spiritual life filled with repentance.
I say it again: congratulations to the Malagasy Lutheran Church for 150 years of Jesus’ blessing and 150 years of bearing witness to Madagascar and to the world. Perhaps the most important time to bear witness is upon you now. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, your slightly older sister, is happy to walk with you and to partner with you as witnesses to Jesus. Thank you for desiring to partner with us. We both walk together in the Scriptures. We can share with each other and both become stronger. Be witnesses to the world and send missionaries to Europe and North America. As missionaries came to you 150 years ago, you now will go out into the world for the next 150 years. Remain faithful in the Word of God. The Reformation lives on here in Madagascar. As the Preacher says, “To everything there is a season…” and now is the season for the Malagasy Lutheran Church. May Jesus richly bless you and bring about the season of our joint partnership. Thank you.
MADAGASCAR – On May 25, 2018, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagas – FLM) voted to “more fully realize our unity as Lutheran Christians” between itself and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), with hopes that a closer relationship between the two churches will lead to the recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship in the future. The decision came during a gathering of the Committee of Highest Synod Leaders (KMSL), the highest decision making body in the Malagasy church, as they met in Antananarivo.
“We give thanks to our Lord who leads His church. I am very pleased to announce that FLM has decided to seek fellowship with the LCMS,” said FLM’s President, Bishop David Rakotonirina. “This is the first step to open the door by working together in the areas of development. We pray for the next steps. We desire to keep FLM a confessional Lutheran church. Praise the Lord.”
LCMS President Matthew Harrison greeted news of the vote with joy, calling it “one of the most significant days in the history of The LCMS and world confessional Lutheranism.”
“We are deeply humbled and deeply thankful,” he continued. “This is the result of growing love and partnership, recognizing a unity of confession of Christ, the gospel, and the truth of the inerrant scriptures, and of the Lutheran confessions,” President Harrison continued. “We have grown together through LCMS World Relief and Human Care medical mercy work, aids projects, graduate education for Malagasy leaders at our Fort Wayne seminary, the work of our Africa region missionaries, of our church relations division, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, and more. The Malagasy have taught us much about zeal for outreach, and care for the most needy. And we have much more to learn. Thanks be to God.”
The Malagasy Lutheran Church was founded in 1867 by Norwegian missionaries and is currently celebrating its 150th anniversary. Today, FLM is one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world, with approximately 4 million members in 8,500 congregations. It counts 1,500 pastors, and has more than 1,000 schools for Christian education. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has 2 million members, and is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.
Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations and Executive Secretary for the ILC, brought greetings to the KMSL on behalf of the Missouri Synod. In remarks to the assembly, he encouraged them to maintain their faithful witness in the Gospel. “Our churches are sisters, in the same family, but separated while we were both young but now we have found each other as we celebrate important jubilees,” he noted. “We are confessional Lutherans who are faithful to the Bible with a strong Lutheran identity. The Missouri Synod and our partner churches around the world are eager to walk with the Malagasy Lutheran Church. We hope to come closer to you and partner together to bear witness to Jesus Christ throughout the world.”
“This marks a historic moment in world Lutheranism, where a Lutheran church in the Global South seeks a true partnership to mutually strengthen and encourage one another,” he said of the vote. “Today, the LCMS has the ability to help build capacity, while tomorrow the Malagasy Lutheran Church will send pastors and missionaries both to Europe and to North America. In fact, they already are doing this.”
The Malagasy Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod will now turn their attention to planning next steps for their growing partnership.
GERMANY – A farewell service was held on Sunday, April 29, 2018 for Kristin Lange, the Managing Director of the Old Latin School (OLS) in Wittenberg, Germany. The OLS is a joint project of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK). After her impending wedding Kristin Lange will be moving to Wittenberg in South Africa.
Rev. Dr. Michael Kumm, chairman of the Board of Directors of the International Lutheran Wittenberg Society (ILSW) that operates the OLS, and Rev. Dr. Albert Collver III, who supervised Lange’s work, thanked her and with prayer and benediction bade her farewell in a service at the city church of St. Mary. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt of the SELK served as preacher for the festival service. He noted was “Cantate Sunday” in the church year, and that song is used to express both joy and sadness, spiritual melody being a source of both consolation and joy. Kristin’s departure likewise brings both joy and sadness.
The intercessions in the service were offered by Mr. Ulrich Schroeder of Dresden, the business manager of the ILSW.
Following the church service, a festive reception in Wittenberg’s Old City Hall followed. A number of guests representing other churches brought greetings, including Lange’s designated successor, Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Weber of South Africa. Dr. Weber is not yet able to begin his work at the OLS as he is still awaiting a work permit to be granted by the German authorities. Both Dr. Collver and Bishop Voigt expressed their hope that a visa for Dr. Weber will be granted in June of this year.
At the end of the event, outgoing Managing Director Kristin Lange spoke of her gratitude for the numerous contacts and friendship she entered into during her work in Wittenberg and all over Germany. She promised not to forget them.
GERMANY – The Extraordinary General Synod of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany opened April 19, 2018 with a Service of Confession and Communion in Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Stadthagen. In the first synodical session the election of the Bishop was on the agenda. This had become necessary because the term of office for Bishop Voigt was set to expire at the end of the year.
For the proposed election the General Pastoral Conference of SELK last year nominated Bishop Voigt and Rev. Markus Nietzke as candidates. In the afternoon these candidates presented themselves to the assembled delegates and answered questions that had previously been submitted to the leadership of the synod. The election by the 47 delegates took place in the evening. On the first ballot, Bishop Voigt received 30 votes, and Rev. Nietzke 17. Therefore Bishop Voigt continues to serve as the presiding clergyman of the SELK. The term of office is not limited.
Far beyond the confines of his church, Bishop Voigt’s pastoral letters on the plight of refugees and of Christian marriage have received considerable attention in Germany. Another important issue was the process of reconciliation begun with the Union Churches in the Protestant Federation (EKD) in Germany.
A native of Dresden, Rev. Dr. Voigt was installed as Bishop in 2006. In 2012 he became chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “I regard the bishop’s office as serving the unity of the church,” Bishop Voigt explained. “I have learned that leadership in the church is always a question of teamwork. It is important to listen, accept helpful suggestions, and continue to listen. It is essential to prevent polarization and to encourage people to speak with each other.”
For his second tenure in office, Bishop Voigt considers it a goal to be a confessionally sound Evangelical Lutheran Church with a heart for missionary outreach and ecumenical responsibility. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt is married to his wife Christiane; the couple is blessed with four children.
The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church Hannover, Germany
WORLD – The leaders from a number of confessional Lutheran churches around the world have joined together in issuing Christmas greetings. Their greetings appear in a downloadable map highlighting the locations of the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) member churches.
Among those taking part in the project is Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the International Lutheran Council and Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church. “At the Feast of the Nativity of our Saviour Christ Jesus and for the New Year 2018 we wish you contemplation, quietude and blessing,” he writes.
Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council and outgoing President of Lutheran Church–Canada also brings greetings. “In the Person of Jesus, the true God came down and took His place next to us in this dark world so that we one day could take our place beside Him on high and sing His praises forever,” he writes. “May God give you the heart and the words to hold out this Christ to people who come to worship with you this Christmas. Sincere greetings and love in Christ our Lord.”
Other church leaders taking part in the project represent Lutheran church bodies in Nicaragua, Venezeula, Brazil, South Africa, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Australia.
The Christmas Greetings map was developed by Rev. Johannes Reitze-Landau, pastor of the All Lutheran Church of Brussels, a member congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium.
ONLINE – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) have partnered together to develop a Bible reading plan entitled Reading the Word of God.
“In order to encourage the people of our church bodies in the daily reading of Holy Scripture, we have compiled a three-year plan of daily Bible readings and a year-long series of weekly readings on Martin Luther’s approach to the Scriptures,” an introduction to the reading plan explains. “The suggested readings are offered for one reason only—to enhance devotional life as an individual or a family daily examines, and is examined by, the Word of God, and then responds in prayer to the heavenly Father.”
Each day features a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm (or portion of a Psalm), and a reading from the New Testament. The guide will take readers through the entire Old Testament one time in three years, with the exception of Psalms, which are read twice each year. The New Testament will be read twice in the three years. Certain church festivals—Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and so forth—have special readings appointed for the specific occasions.
A selection of brief weekly readings on Martin Luther are also included as a companion in helping Christians better understand the value of reading God’s Word regularly. “While we in no way intend for these to replace or be understood as equal to the value of daily Bible reading, we do believe they will be helpful, especially for Lutherans,” the introduction notes. The selections, which come from Johann Michael Reu’s classic work Luther on the Scriptures, “speak to us of the clarity, simplicity, trustworthiness, and infallibility of Scripture,” the introduction goes on to say. “It is our hope and prayer that each member, household, and congregation will turn daily to the biblical readings with renewed desire for the Word which is a ‘lamp to our feet and a light to our path’’ (Ps. 119:105).”
Download the Introduction to the Bible reading guide, as well as the selection on Luther’s understanding of Scripture, in pdf form here. The daily Bible reading calendar is available to download in three parts, one for each year of the plan: 2018, 2019, and 2020.
The three-year Bible reading guide arose out of ongoing LCC/LCMS/NALC dialogues, which resulted in 2016 in the publication of a document recognizing the three church’s common understanding of the nature and authority of the Holy Scriptures. The newly released reading plan builds on that work, effectively saying “We don’t just affirm Scripture as God’s Word; we want to see it actively used.”
The LCMS and LCC are both members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
BELGIUM – On October 31, 2017, “Martin Luther Place” (Maarten Lutherplein) in Antwerp, Belgium, was inaugurated by the city’s Mayor, Bart De Wever, and Germany’s ambassador to Belgium, Rüdiger Lüdeking.
The inauguration was part of Antwerp’s celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Antwerp played an important role in the early years of the Reformation. The Augustinian monastery there had several monks who studied with Luther in Wittenberg, and brought his ideas to Antwerp. Two of them—Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes—became the two first martyrs of the Reformation, executed in Brussels on July 1, 1523.
President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België, EKLB), directed the ceremony, as the local Lutheran church initiated efforts to name a place after Luther.
The ELKB is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. President van Hattem also serves as Secretary of the ILC’s Executive Council.
Antwerp, Belgium will be the venue of the International Lutheran Council’s next world conference in September 2018.
President van Hattem’s inauguration speech for “Martin Luther Place” follows:
We warmly welcome you to this festive inauguration of Martin Luther Place.
In particular, Mr. Bart de Wever, mayor of Antwerp, and Mr. Rüdiger Lüdeking, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany. Herzlich Wilkommen!
Today marks exactly 500 years since the monk and university professor Martin Luther posted his 95 Thesis about and against indulgences on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Church doors acted as message boards at that time.
Throughout the world, October 31, 1517, is seen as the symbolic date for the start of the Reformation, a movement that has had a major impact on our Western culture and society.
Since Antwerp came into contact with the Reformation early in the 16th century, and Protestantism played a major role in the city, Antwerp might have remained a Protestant city—if it did not had been brought back under the Spanish crown in 1585. For these reasons, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation may certainly be celebrated in Antwerp.
This has already happened and is happening through many activities throughout the year, not least through the exhibition at St. Andrew Church, with its focus on the early years of the Reformation in this city.
What was missing was a visible reminder of the Reformation in the Antwerp cityscape. It is for this reason that the Lutheran church, with the support of the Antwerp Council of Churches, applied to City Council to name a street or place after the Reformer, which made the city council decide to call this place “Martin Luther Place.”
We now invite the Mayor and the Ambassador to proceed to the official inauguration of the Martin Luther Place by revealing one of the nameplates. (The mayor and ambassador revealed the nameplate.)
With this the square is inaugurated. As a souvenir at this moment and this day, we would like to present you with a figure of the Reformer. (The mayor and ambassador both received a Playmobil Luther figure.)
We thank everyone for their presence and ask you to join us in St. Andrew church nearby for a few speeches alternated with music, after which will follow a reception by the District of Antwerp with Lutherbier provided by the German Embassy.
ENGLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) held its 63rd synodical convention September 29-30, 2017 in Cambridge, during which time delegates commemorated the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation.
That focus complemented a number of other Reformation projects the ELCE has undertaken in 2017, including the publication of a new translation of Luther’s Small Catechism, available for free use by anyone. See the translation, and further information about using it under its Creative Commons Licence, at www.thesmallcatechism.org.
Rev. Dr. Robert Rosin, Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology at Concordia Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri) served as guest speaker for the September synodical convention, speaking on the ongoing relevance of the Reformation. Delegates also enjoyed a series of sermons reflecting on key teachings of the Reformation, including Jesus Alone; Scripture Alone; Grace Alone; and Through Faith Alone. Other Reformation projects from the ELCE in 2017 include the creation of a Reformation Bible, Luther Reading Roadshows, numerous Reformation events, and the publication of a book on early Lutheran martyrs in the United Kingdom.
A key topic of discussion during the synodical convention was the need to review the church’s current organisational structure. Other important business included several elections for open positions on the Executive Council, as well as various boards and committees.
The 64th synodical convention of the ELCE will take place in Fareham, England in September, 2018.
The ELCE has congregations throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, and is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. In addition to increased participation in inter-Lutheran discussions in Europe in recent years, the ELCE has also become increasingly active in ecumenical discussions throughout the United Kingdom, bringing a clear Lutheran witness to these events.
FORT WAYNE, Indiana – The American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC) recently held talks with representatives of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) on October 10-11, 2017 to discuss entering into altar and pulpit fellowship, as well as to consider potential opportunities for partnership.
Representing the SELK at the meetings were Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt and Rev. Dr. Werner Klän. Representing the AALC were Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins, Rev. Richard Shields, and Rev. Joseph Dapelo.
The meetings began the morning of October 10 on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the AALC has its national headquarters. Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins of the AALC led opening devotions. Discussions the first day focused on confessional basis and ecclesial identity, as well as the doctrines of Holy Scripture, God, sin, the Son of God, the Holy Spirit, justification and sanctification, the Church, and the office of the Holy Ministry, with general agreement on the issues discussed.
Leading the SELK’s delegation was Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, who also serves as Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies worldwide. Both SELK and the AALC are member churches of the ILC. The second day of meetings between SELK and the AALC began with devotions led by Bishop Voigt, followed by discussions on the sacraments, worship, ethics, and eschatology, with the two sides finding consensus in these areas.
Each group plans to encourage their respective church bodies to vote on entering into fellowship at coming conventions (SELK at their pastoral convention in November 2017 and the AALC at their general convention in June 2018).
Earlier in 2017, the AALC also entered into fellowship talks with Lutheran Church in Norway (Den Lutherske Kirke i Norge – LKN). March saw talks between the AALC’s President Pastor Leins, Rev. Dapelo, and Rev. Jordan Cooper and the LKN’s Bishop Torkild Msavie and Rev. Eirik-Kornelius Garnes-Lunde. On the basis of those talks, the LKN decided to enter into fellowship with the AALC. The AALC will bring the matter forward for a vote at the AALC’s general convention in June 2018. The LKN, like SELK and the AALC, is a member church of the International Lutheran Council.
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