2023 Mid-Year Full Mission Report

A Memory-Making, Mid-Year Mission

NOTE: Due to the high detail density of the mid-year mission events, and the singular perspective provided by Austin Huggins, the following report reads as a personal journal entry style report.

By The Lord’s miraculous and unexpected financial provision through an unknown saint, I was able to board the plane, Wednesday afternoon, for what was scheduled to be a very full itinerary of events. Pastor Osinachi Nwoko, of SGBC, Lagos, had requested my participation in helping to quickly follow up after last year’s 2022 Lagos Bible Conference. There were several new, and time sensitive, open doors that he felt would be important for us to pursue. I arrived on the ground in Lagos around 8pm Thursday evening, Pastor Osinachi greeted me outside the airport, picked me up, and took me to where I would be staying for the evening.  After working our way through the difficult network of Lagos traffic, we eventually arrived at my host home in Ipaja around 11pm. I would remain here for the first several days since I was to meet with Pastor Ruke and preach that coming Lord’s Day to the saints of Christ Bible Church, Ipaja . After quickly settling in and hitting the rack around midnight, I was already back up again at 5:30am for my first adventure.

Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Abeokuta

Meeting the New Reformed Baptist work in the Yoruba speaking regions of Abeokuta.

Pastor Osagie from SGBC, Lagos, arrived about 7am that morning to take us to the train station headed to Abeokuta. There, we were to visit the new work of Grace Reformed Baptist Church, pastored by Oluwagbemiga Otu, in a remote outcrop outside the main cities. Abeokuta is a village city of open idolatry, voodoo, witchcraft, and syncretism. Most adherents of various religions, (Islam and “Christianity” included), practice a traditional Nigerian form of paganism and divination called “African fetish”. Here, Yoruba is a more dominant language, and at times is preferred to English. Brother Sola from SGBC had joined us in this travel as a fluent speaker and translator of Yoruba. He is working closely in helping Otu translate materials into the native language.

Once we arrived in Abeokuta, we met Pastor Otu outside the train station. He took us to his home before giving us a tour of the work. The Lord has opened a mighty door for Him to bring the Gospel to a people group drowning in African mysticism. He drove us out to a place in the town underneath the large Olumo Rock overshadowing the village. The locals believe the rock possesses mystical power and those living in its shadow practice all manner of occult worship. As we came to a stop in front the first Islamic mosque built in the region, we got out on foot. Behind the Mosque, (which was a very large building when considering the surrounding tin shacks), lies a small dirt square encircled by burn sites for sacrifices. At the back of this square lies the main fetish shrine, overseeing most of these practices. As we approached and followed Pastor Otu, the Fetish Chief Priest came out of the shrine to greet and welcome us. We shook hands as Otu provided the introductions. We were taken to the adjacent quarters, owned by the leading Muslim man in the square, climbed the stairs to the second floor and stepped out onto the large balcony overseeing the square. Pastor Osagie looked at me, leaned over and said, “we are standing in Satan’s throne room.” It was there as we overlooked the dark scene and began to talk that I learned the whole situation. 

This would have been a truly disturbing event, were it not for the fact that two of the Muslim man’s daughters had joined Pastor Otu’s Bible Study and had become regular attenders with convictions of their own. With this detail in view, I learned that they had requested of their father to allow Otu to share the Gospel with their people. The Muslim man, in turn, with his unique position, was able to receive permission from the chief priest of the square to allow Otu to do just that! With the given syncretism and mixture of multi-religious influences in the area, The chief priest saw little threat to Otu’s presence. If anything, they thought it very interesting that a Christian would not only be willing to step into their grounds, but actually teach there. The Muslim man only warned Pastor Otu that neither he, nor the chief priest, would be in attendance during the preaching, but that Otu was free to share and teach as he desired. Otu would now be permitted to preach Christ and to preach the Gospel regularly, even weekly, in the heart of this dark square where the local towns and village people routinely gather for various customs and observances. The Chief priest was the spiritual leader of the village and oversaw the use of the village square. It seems Otu, like Paul, has been granted a rare opportunity to preach from his own Areopagus! May The Lord be pleased to open their eyes and save them.

After this adventure, we trekked our way back down the path between the buildings, to leave the way we came. Next stop was to see the new church building that GRBC now meets in. After looking at the logistics of making the best use of the building for services, we returned to Otu’s home for a meal, prayer, and Christian fellowship. With the day ending, we headed back for the train, back to Ipaja, and back for a first opportunity to catch some rest. Saturday would be my day to recoup from jetlag, sleep, and prepare for The Lord’s Day services at CBC the following day.

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PRAYER: Please pray for this region. Pray that those who sit in darkness may see the great light of Christ in the Gospel. Pray for boldness as he labors in remarkable and unusual circumstances, that he would be both bold, and yet wise. Pray that Pastor Otu and brother Sola can continue to translate many needed materials into Yoruba. Pray for more faithful laborers and genuine converts to be added to Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Abeokuta.

Christ Bible Church, Ipaja

Visiting and Ministering Beside Pastor Ruke: Newly Ordained to Oversee the California Namesake.

This church plant has been several years in the making. It has its origins back in the 2018 mission, where Choolwe Mwetwa joined with Pastor Joe and I to minister and preach at West African Theological Seminary (WATS). Out from that conference, a small house fellowship was formed, overseen by SGBC, to continue to learn sound doctrine. Although today none of the early transient WATS students remain, new attendees formed around the old ones and eventually became the church plant it is today. The name of the church is also significant. CBC gets its name from Pastor Joe Jacowitz’ church in California. Due to Pastor Joe’s long mission history with the brethren, the brethren of SGBC felt it would be a fitting tribute.

Pastor Ruke arrived early that morning to pick me up for church service. A few years ago I had the privilege of laying hands on brother Ruke and ordaining him to the deaconate under the auspices of SGBC and her elders. After having been sent to Zambia for almost a year for internship training under one of the local churches planted by Kabwata, pastored by Conrad Mbewe, he would return to be ordained to take on CBC in January of 2023. He was now only 6 months into his pastorate, and I now had the opportunity to address him as “Pastor Ruke”. It was a sweet time to be with him and to co-labor in the work. The warmth of the fellowship extended to my entire time with this little church. Service began with an hour given to prayer meeting, after which time the rest of the morning services began. I was to bring the message that morning, titled “To God Be The Glory in The Church”, taken from 1 Tim 3:14-16. Afterward, informal fellowship broke out. I learned that between services, the children’s outreach ministry of the church brings in a group of local children and students in the area to catechize them in Christian doctrine and evangelize them. I had the privilege to bring a short message to them as well from the life of King Josiah, a young boy, who despite his age humbled himself before the Word of God and was used to bring reformation to his people. By late afternoon, and after an emergency cup of coffee, Pastor Ruke hosted a Q&A outreach evening at the church, where I took questions and gave biblical responses to members, prospective members, and their unsaved guests. This Lord’s Day was full. From morning to evening , it was truly, as the puritans referred to it, “a market day for the soul.” The fellowship with the saints was sweet, and my time with Pastor Ruke was equally as precious. We shared time together and had an informal elder’s meeting to discuss the order of service, outreach opportunities, and then just encouraged one another.

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PRAYER: Please pray for this new little church and her newly ordained elder. Brother Sola is here weekly for services as well. He now attends CBC and has his membership here, all while helping Pastor Otu in his spare time to translate Yoruba. Pray for CBC’s outreach into the neighboring communities. Also, the Landlord is apparently making the terms of their rent difficult, and the church may already need to move. Pray The Lord would guide this process and place them where they can be most effective in their outreach for the Gospel.

Pastor Tony Okoroh, Lagos

The Providential Grace of A Long & Faithful Life

Pastor Osinachi had been in Abuja since I last saw him on the night I first arrived. He was preaching at Sovereign Grace Community church (SGCC), pastored by Adeola. This morning, he returned to Lagos to fetch me and take me to his home where I would be hosted for the rest of my time. As he drove towards his home, deeper into central Lagos, we stopped by the home of another man, greatly loved and respected by all the saints and friends of the reformed network in Nigeria. Pastor Tony Okoroh has pastored Sovereign Grace Bible Church since its founding over 20 years ago. He is currently 78 years old, (very great and rare age for a Nigerian), and among other health concerns was also recovering from a recent cataract surgery. Pastor Tony had called me and his fellow elders for a special meeting to discuss the future of the work in Nigeria. After tackling a few different items, we ended with prayer and thanksgiving for all that The Lord has been gracious to do in our midst. After several hugs, encouragements, and photos together we said our goodbyes. This would be my only time with Pastor Tony during this mission as he continues to recover from surgery. Soon after, we departed to Pastor Osinachi’s home for food, fellowship, and preparation for the work in Ibadan that would begin the next day.

PRAYER: Please pray for Pastor Tony’s eye recovery and recent concerns regarding his heart health. Pray for his continued resiliency, wisdom, and encouragement, as well as for the health of his dear wife, Sister Ori. Pray for the Godly influence he has been and continues to be to the other elders, the church, and its several plants. Also, please pray for the future work of SGBC, Lagos, for the resources to build a new church building on the recently purchased plot of land, and for wisdom to properly oversee the sustained growth.

Outreach Conference in Ibadan

Ibadan Reformed Fellowship Hosts Exploratory Conference: “What Is A Christian?”

As characteristic of this mission, we were up early the next morning and headed again for the train station. This time our destination would take us to a new region that we had never had a conference in before: Ibadan. After the tremendous response to the Lagos Bible Conference of 2022 last November, several new fellowship groups and student groups identified themselves to us as those who were coming out of their heretical denominations and were seeking biblical Christianity. Among these groups, was one in particular that was led by a man named David Lawal, who oversees the reformed student fellowship at Ibadan University. He requested oversight and help in bringing sound doctrine to his people. It was later decided, for this mission, that Pastor Osinachi and I would travel together and speak at the university campus on a conference theme of “What is A Christian?” This outreach was a major part of my special trip to Nigeria during the mid-year cycle. After last’s years mission, Pastor Osinachi requested that I consider coming again much sooner to follow up with some of these groups, like David’s, that had come to us for help. He recommended we not wait long, but “strike while the iron was hot,” and go visit these areas as soon as possible. After speaking with my wife and co-elder about this opportunity, and with their encouragement to go, I discovered that an anonymous donation had already been provided to return me to Nigeria. With The Lord’s clear provision and blessing from the local church, a few months later I was now on the ground and prepared to see what The Lord had in store for us.

Day 1

A number of special resources had been provided for us during this outreach, including 63 Gospel books by Paul Washer, provided by HeartCry Missionary Society, as well as provision from FirstLove, Chapel Library, and Lux in Tenebris (LIT).

Pastor Osinachi indicated to me that they were expecting no more than 100 attendees at the most, and that this conference outreach was exploratory in nature. He wanted to see what doors The Lord may have opened for the Gospel in this region. The conference would last two days and would be aimed at bringing the biblical Gospel, with a right understanding of biblical conversion, regeneration, and the subsequent fruits of the New Birth to those who would gather with us. When the afternoon came to start the first sessions, and the table of resources were set up, no less than 180 precious souls poured into the venue hall for the conference. Osi was shocked. Clearly the resources would not be sufficient. He sent word to brother Joel, a deacon at SGBC in Lagos, to send more Gospel literature on the next train headed to Ibadan. As the conference commenced, Pastor Osi opened with the first sermon “What a Christian is Not.” I followed next with “A Christian is A Redeemed Sinner,” and then Osi concluded the first evening with “A Christian is A Follower of Christ.”

The first day was energetic, fast moving, and very encouraging. We never know how people will react or whether they will understand what is being said at first. When the issue of sin and death was being addressed from Ephesians 2, around 10 or so attendees stood up and left the conference. They seemed to be hearing us just fine. The 180 counted were those who remained to the end. There was no evidence of chatting, side bar conversations, or disconnectedness in the room. The people were hearing the messages and were listening intently. This greatly encouraged our hearts in the work. Osi and I were also particularly thankful that we knew we had enough resources on the way to provide for everyone. The conference times were being held in the late afternoon time frame due to the fact that the university students were in the midst of writing their exams. There were some concerns beforehand that it would negatively impact how many students might turn out. This was apparently not the case.

Day 2

Thankfully, the resources sent up from Lagos had arrived in plenty of time before the next day’s afternoon sessions began. We were now better prepared for the 180 students to arrive. Today however, 230 students arrived, and pressed into a venue hall too small to properly sit everyone. The resources sent would just barely be sufficient for everyone. New chairs had to be bought in with the seating rows pushing right up to the platform and wrapping around the side. The densely packed rows extended all the way to the back of the room. After silently surveying the room, Pastor Osi leaned over to me, with surprise on his face and said: “this is more than the Lagos Bible Conference attendance from just a few years ago.”  

As also being characteristic of this mission, there was no air conditioning working in the facility. The heat was oppressive. Furthermore, Pastor Osi had scheduled for me to preach the remaining two messages of the conference. I began this session with the fourth message titled, “A Christian is Christ’s Witness to Other Sinners=.” There I aimed to show that the Christian, being a miracle of God’s grace, was also, by nature, a herald of that grace. He is to be light and salt to the darkness and decay around him. After a brief transition, and a sip of water, I then returned to preach Session 5 on “A Profile of Paul: An Example of a Christian.” Here we looked at the Apostle Paul’s example as one who was saved by grace, transformed by that grace, and then labored according to the grace given to him. In one sense, it cost him greatly, and yet, it was the utter joy of his heart to serve Christ. Paul thus tells us all: “Follow me as I Follow Christ.” Immediately afterward, Pastor Osinachi rejoined me for the final session on the Q&A Panel. It was here, that Osi made a note, that not only were the questions thoughtful, serious, and relevant, but the students even appeared to be “on the edge of their seats.” I was thoroughly exhausted by this point, as the combination of the heat and physical exertion had caught up with me. Though my body was weak, and may appear so in the photos, my heart was full of joy and praise to The Lord.

We were surprised by the serious and sober-minded responses of the people to the messages preached. After the Q&A Panel session ended and the book materials were distributed, many people hung back for informal counseling and seeking answers to more questions. A number of individuals were very interested in finding ways to stay connected with this new work that was just beginning! Pastor Osi sent encouraging news to the saints praying back in Lagos. Most of them couldn’t believe the great news of his report!

We returned late to our rooms and promptly collapsed into bed. Up early again the next morning, Osi and I headed back to the train station headed for Lagos, where we would eventually arrive back at Osinachi’s home for needed rest.

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PRAYER: We are praising The Lord for what he has allowed us to see in Ibadan. Please pray that those who heard truth would continue to pursue it. Pray for brother David Lawal and the Ibadan Reformed Fellowship that meets on campus. Pray for continued help, strength, and wisdom for the elders of SGBC as they help oversee this work. We had come for an exploratory conference to see if there were any open doors, and we left recognizing the need for a church plant in this region. Pray for the free course of the Gospel in Ibadan!

Radio Outreach

Proclaiming The Good News Far & Wide

After a day of much needed rest, I had the privilege of reconnecting with Pastor Osagie again. Brother Joel picked me up from Osi’s home to take me to a nearby recording studio where the elders regularly record segments to be played later on EKO FM. The radio ministry has been a major component of outreach in Lagos which is a massively overpopulated city of more than 21 million people. By comparison, New York City is just over 8 million, and the entire nation of Zambia is about 17 million! Lagos is the most densely populated city on the continent of Africa. Here, the Radio is a key channel by which to disseminate the Gospel to a people who still largely rely on that mode of getting information.  

Pastor Osagie had been currently working through the Attributes of God over the course of his segments. Due to major fuel cost increases, most facilities are running on generators to combat perpetual rolling blackouts. The recording studio would only be up and running for a few scheduled hours. In this time frame, Osagie requested me to come record an evangelistic message of about 30 minutes. I selected my text from Matthew 7, contrasting the broad way and the narrow way, showing how there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof is death. I challenged the listeners to consider Christ, who alone is the way, the truth, and the life. Afterward, Osagie joined me for a second session. This time, we engaged in a Q&A style dialogue as we addressed what a true Christian is. It was a precious time of teaching together and fellowship! Once we finished, we all set out on foot down the street to fetch a ride back to pastor Osinachi’s home. I would use the remainder of that evening to prepare for SGBC’s Mid-Year Conference which would begin the next day.

PRAYER: Please pray for the resources to continue the ongoing work of radio outreach. Pray for Pastor Tony’s weekly live radio segments. Pray for Osagie and the other elders’ routine catechisms and evangelistic messages that go out over the airwaves. Pray for the many, innumerable souls that have the opportunity to hear the Word of God explained plainly in a land drowning in false teaching.

SGBC, Lagos Mid-Year Bible Conference

The Truth of God’s Word On The Offices of Apostles & Prophets

This was our first opportunity to be a part of SGBC’s mid-year conference. Normally, FirstLove comes during the November time frame when the annual Lagos Bible Conference is scheduled. I was excited to see the conference and to be apart of it. Not only did this make the conference special, but this conference was expected to be special due to the unique subject matter that would be covered.

In a land overrun by self-appointed prophets, dreamers, apostles, and “Very-High Right Reverend Dr. So-And-So.” Most of the biblical meanings of offices is entirely lost or misunderstood. If a man says he is a prophet sent by God, can speak well, and draw a crowd on fantastical claims, then he is assumed to be a prophet. SGBC has been a rare voice speaking out against the tides of this insanity for a long time. With that said, even though it is an issue they address regularly, they had never dedicated an entire conference to just this one singular issue. Yet, with the sudden rise of new self ascribed Apostles, boasting of being greater than the Apostle Paul himself, and their subsequent mass followings, they felt it necessary to address the issue loudly and head on.

Pastor Osagie Azeta opened the conference with the sermon “What is a Prophet.” I was given the second message titled “What is an Apostle.” Pastor Osinachi Nwoko took the third message “Apostles & Prophets Today: Ceased or Continuing.” Lastly, I would take the final message of the conference titled “The Cessation and Sufficiency of Special Revelation.”

There was one notable and exciting interruption to the flow of events. In the midst of the conference, between two of the sessions, SGBC conducted a special graduation ceremony for the first five graduates of the one year certificate program in their Grace Bible University (GBU) partnered school, called Grace and Truth Theological Seminary (GTS).  This was the school formerly known as Christ Pastor Seminary (CPS). Five brothers received their one-year Certificate of Biblical Studies with Brother Joel, a deacon of the church and head administrator of GTS, presiding over the graduation. I had the privilege to present them their certificates and congratulate them on behalf of the leadership of GBU and FirstLove Ministries.

After lunch had ended and the conference resumed, we soon came to the last plenary session. Afterward, each of the speakers then came together to take questions on a moderated Q&A Panel. We received all sorts of questions ranging from the doctrinal to the fantastical. Some wanted to know more precise details of Old Testament qualifications, others were curious to know how to respond to real world interactions with the issues at hand. In each case, we gave a consistent biblical response and directed the questioners back to The Word of God as their standard for discerning these things. As is most often the case, it appeared most of the confusion came surrounded by a general unawareness of fundamental Bible literacy. The brethren in Nigeria are at the tip of the spear in aiming to bring doctrinal and biblical clarity to some of the most incredibly contorted religious perspectives in the “Christian” world.

PRAYER: Please pray for the elders and saints of Sovereign Grace bible Church in Lagos. Remember to pray for their steadfast faithfulness and endurance in ministry. Pray for their encouragement and boldness in the work The Lord has set before them. Pray the lies and misrepresentations of scripture and God within much of the Nigerian counterfeit religious system would be systematically dismantled and embarrassed by the clear and unashamed preaching of God’s Word. Pray that truth would continue to triumph over unbelief and that many lost souls would be spared and set free from the tyranny of false religion.

Sovereign Grace Bible Church, Lagos

A Growing Family of Soldiers at The Tip of The Spear

With most of the mission now behind me, my final day of ministry fell on The Lord’s Day. It was fitting to be gathered in corporate worship with the precious brethren of SGBC in Lagos. It was here almost 21 years ago, under the inaugural leadership of a younger Pastor Tony Okoroh, that it seems the future of Biblical Christianity in Nigeria was just entering its beginning chapters. To see what The Lord is doing, since the bible study fellowship began in 1994 that would inevitably become SGBC by 2002, is enough to make a saint weep. Pastor Joe regularly quotes the text “despise not the day of small things,” which Pastor Tony and the others are now quite fond of repeating as well. No one could have seen then, or even 5 years ago for that matter, all that The Lord was preparing to do through this little church. By way of the many providences surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems the Lord threw off the wrappers of a church hidden in obscurity from the eyesight of the world, and even its own city.

NOTE: Around 2018, statistics indicated that Reformed Baptist Christianity was somewhere around less than 0.00001% of the population. Or expressed another way, in a nation of over 200 million people, there were only about 1,000 self-identified Reformed Baptists. A super majority of “Christianity” in Nigeria is identified by the most extreme forms of the charismatic movements, trusting in signs, miracles, and promises of financial provision. Those who held to the Gospel of Christ and upheld the authority of the Scriptures, were a hyper-minority.

Now today, just four or five years later, SGBC is overdue for a new building to fit everyone. They now fellowship and labor in close communion with reformed churches like Sovereign Grace Community Church and Trinity Baptist Church in Abuja. SGBC is also now overseeing her own church plants: Sovereign Grace Lekki Church in Lekki, Christ Bible Church in Ipaja, and Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Abeokuta. This does not include the new reformed fellowship study groups in several different schools and university campuses. There are now even new requests for SGBC to help with the biblical reformation of churches in the nearby nation of Ghana. They are carrying the Gospel of Christ well beyond their pulpit into different cities, regions, and even nations. New elders are taking the helm, galvanized by the convictions and mentorship of the men that went before. More hands are being added to the plow. They are multiplying. They are moving. They are zealous. They fear God and pray earnestly, desiring to see “the earth filled with the knowledge of the glory of The Lord, as the waters cover the sea.-Hab.2:14

I had the honor of preaching during that Lord’s Day service, a message titled “Dear Children, Obey The Lord.” This sermon came from the text in Ephesians 6:1-4 and was an encouragement to the families of the church in the discipline, discipleship, and stewardship of their children in The Lord. The economic and cultural issues in Nigeria are very hard on the nuclear family. Parents must work all day to receive a day’s wage, as hourly pay is very abnormal. Children, as a result, are almost always given into the public school system amidst a corrupt nation of government pilfering and economic hardship. Very little time is usually available in the late evenings for ministry, family discipleship, and raising little ones. A mixture of poverty, poor health, and failing infrastructures add up to generate a lot of daily tension and weariness. Fathers can be loud and frustrated while trying to guide and lead the home in late evenings. Husbands can often lead through the strength of their voice rather than the charity of their wisdom. They need prayer for strength, patience, and grace to discipline and lead in a more biblical pattern. Wives need encouragement in asserting their role over their own children, rather than over their husbands. Later, during the evening service, I spoke again, this time on “The Helmet of Salvation,” and the need to guard our minds in the knowledge of the hope of Salvation. Sunday was a day of preaching, fellowship, singing, prayer, informal meetings, counseling, and a lot of joy and love. My time with these saints is always a blessed time in The Lord.

PRAYER: Please pray for the families of SGBC; for the roles of fathers and mothers in the shepherding of their children. Pray that they may continue to grow in seeing the need to mutually evangelize and catechize their children in the home. Pray that the elders would continue to provide a biblical example as biblical parenting moves into the Nigerian church culture. Pray for their strength to endure hardship as good soldiers of the cross of Jesus Christ.

Fellowship, Rest, & Looking To The Future

My time had come to fly out Monday evening and head back home to the states, to my home church, and to my sorely missed wife and children. The day time would consist of enjoying meals with saints, times of fellowship in different homes, and engaging in hopeful conversations and plans about what to be preparing for next. With all the mission work and labor for this particular trip now behind us, Pastor Osi took me around Monday for what was a precious time of simply experiencing the joys of the brotherhood in Christ. I got to meet with such familiar faces as Pastor Ruke, brother Gabriel, and brother Callum (a Presbyterian brother from Scotland). My time to depart is always bittersweet.

PRAYER: Praise The Lord for all the evident Providences of His help throughout this mission. Praise The Lord for how he is using SGBC in Nigeria, and the other faithful churches with whom she labors with. Pray for the need of a new church building and the resources required for the work. Pray for the continued spread of The Gospel of Christ throughout Nigeria and all of West Africa. Pray for the upcoming interns, their training, financial support, and their spiritual development. Pray for the upcoming Lagos Bible Conference in November!

By His Grace Alone,
Austin Huggins

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