Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Dannah Gresh: If you long to please God, it starts in the little things. Here’s Ellen Vaughn.

Ellen Vaughn: I think the most profound work in a human life is in the ordinary, mundane, day-in-and-day-out following of Jesus. That’s what I took away from Elisabeth Elliot. Both in the most excruciating tragedy she went through as well as in getting up every Monday morning and doing what God was calling her to do, she sought to be faithful. And she didn’t depend on, “What do other people think or how do they feel?”

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of You Can Trust God to Write Your Story, for September 21, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

So, let me ask you a question: How do you want to be remembered? Will others say your life showcased the faithfulness, the glory of God? I’m asking because we’re celebrating a milestone here at Revive Our Hearts. It’s the beginning of the twentieth year of our on-air ministry, and we’re taking some time to look back on God’s faithfulness over the years.

Now, the Revive Our Hearts ministry was preceded by a program called Gateway To Joy. That was hosted by the very beloved Elisabeth Elliot. She was certainly one of my most influential role models, though we never met, and maybe you feel the same. If you’re meeting her for the first time, you’re going to love her.

For the past couple of weeks, we’ve been hearing from Elisabeth on the topic of suffering. If you missed those programs, you can find them by scrolling back to September 6 in your podcast feed or by clicking on the link to see the transcript of today’s program.

More recently, we’ve been hearing about Elisabeth. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been in conversation with Ellen Vaughn, and you and I have had the privilege of listening in. Now, Ellen Vaughn wrote the biography of the early years of Elisabeth’s life. It’s titled Becoming Elisabeth Elliot. Let’s listen in.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, if you were familiar with the life and the work and ministry of Elisabeth Elliot, if you read her books, heard her speak, listened to her radio broadcast, Gateway To Joy, then you will probably identify with what I’m about to say, which is: When I received the news that Elisabeth Elliot, age eighty-eight, had gone home to be with the Lord, I can remember where I was, and it really hit me like a ton of bricks.

It wasn’t that it was unexpected. She hadn’t been well for a number of years, and it was probably a welcome transition to heaven. I wasn’t close enough to her to know that, but it had to be. She had physical challenges and challenges with her memory. So to be welcomed into the presence of the Lord had to be an amazing thing.

But for those of us left down here on earth who had been so marked by her life, so influenced by her teaching and ministry, well, it was just a very emotional thing for me. In fact, I was with Robert. We were engaged at the time, and I went into the room where he was, in the next room. I just said, “Honey, Elisabeth Elliot is gone.” And then I just broke down. This was such a moving thing to me.

I almost couldn’t unpack why it hit me so hard, but so much of my life had been shaped by the things that I had learned from her, by her journey that had inspired me to press on through hard times in faith, the things I had learned about obedience and trust in Christ. She just epitomized that song, “Trust and Obey.” And I had grown up reading her books, reading the stories of how God had worked through her life and Jim Elliot and the other missionaries as well. It just felt like here was the end of an era, and who was there to carry that torch anymore?

In fact, I can remember years ago, in her last years as I realized she was not going to be the Gateway To Joy ministry for much longer, I can remember looking around and thinking, Who’s God going to raise up to carry this message to women of the next generation? I would talk with women, and I would say, “I had my eyes peeled for who God might raise up to follow in Elisabeth’s steps”—not to have her same story, but to take that message to women of our generation and the next and the next.

Well, I had no idea when I was asking those questions that the Lord would raise up in His time Revive Our Hearts and that we would carry some of that baton. But I still felt at her death in 2015 such a sense of loss, such a sense of the greatness of this message that she had stewarded so well across the span of a fruitful lifetime. It was a sadness for me, and yet a joy that she was now with the Lord, that faith had become sight, prayer had become praise.

Over those next days as Robert and I had the privilege of attending both of her memorial services—one in Boston, the other in Wheaton—I found myself just being inspired afresh to say, “Yes, Lord. I want to be obedient to You. I don’t want to live my life based on my feelings. I want to walk one step at a time, doing the next thing in obedience to You and trusting You with the outcome.”

Well, I hope that whether you were very familiar with Elisabeth or not at all, that over the past week, as you’ve heard Elisabeth Elliot’s biographer tell some of the stories about her life, that you have gotten a glimpse of who she is, but also that you’ve gotten more of a glimpse of who God is.

I want to welcome again to Revive Our Hearts this week, Ellen Vaughn. You’ve written a newly released, authorized biography called, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot. And you called it that because it’s about her early years. (Lord willing, there will be a second volume yet to come that will be about her later years.) But you’ve helped us catch a vision of why the early years of Elisabeth Elliot were important and how they contributed to the Elisabeth Elliot she became that we knew and loved and who ministered to us so deeply.

Ellen: Right. Nancy, I so appreciate hearing your story about how she affected your life, and clearly that has borne fruit in your own ministry. I had read a number of her books and been aware of her and heard her speak. She came and worshipped at my church in Washington, D.C. occasionally if she was in town. But she wasn’t so much on my radar.

Then to my surprise, when I was approached by her daughter and her best friend to write this authorized biography, I found myself swept into the life story of this sister in Christ. I had a moment, probably a couple of years after her death, when I went up to New England. On a sunny day I found her grave, which is a rough, hewn stone. It was in the sunshine. It had been warmed by the sun.

I just sat down. (This was early on in the writing of this book.) I put my back against the warm stone, and I thought about the verse that was inscribed on the stone about “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you, declares the Lord.” I thought about the life, as I was now becoming more and more aware of it as her biographer, that I had been entrusted to steward, and that was heavy.

And at the same time, I felt like she would not want to be held up as a model. She would not . . .

Nancy: I can tell you that for sure! Some years ago—and I’ve never told this publicly, but I will now—at one of the True Woman conferences that we do regularly, we wanted to give to Elisabeth the first True Woman award. We ended up giving the first one to Joni Eareckson Tada because Elisabeth and Lars declined the honor. We knew it was about Jesus, but she didn’t want to be made much of. That was really characteristic of her. I don’t know if she’d mind that we’re doing this now, talking about her life, but only in so much as it points us to Christ.

Ellen: She would be happy that it was all about Christ.

Nancy: Yes, exactly.

Ellen: She would not be happy that we were even looking at her life. It’s funny . . . I have her journals from her whole life from age eight onward, and in some of the later journals, after she became well known around the world, occasionally there’d be scribbles in her handwriting saying, “Oh, my poor biographer!” or “Oh, I feel bad for the person who has to write my story!” And I’d be reading along and saying, “That’s me, Sister! I’m here!”

But, certainly, for Elisabeth Elliot, it was all about Jesus. She saw herself as a comic figure, as a person who had so many insecurities and issues. She saw herself how we see ourselves, as very conscious of our deficits.

But the thing that I took away: Look at the whole of this woman’s life, or you look at the whole that I wrote about in this first volume of her life story, and it is a story. You can see God’s faithfulness in how He leads human beings. She had a very dramatic life story, especially these first years. God’s faithfulness and then her own determination that no matter what happened, she would follow Jesus.

She was not concerned with, “How does this make me feel?” She was not concerned with, “What will other people think?” She was not constrained by some of the things that can cripple us as we look to ourselves or as we look to other people. In the most painful moments of her life, she looked to Jesus and said, “Lord, what would You have me do?” Not, “Why did You allow this to happen to me?” or “What does it mean?” It was, “Lord what would You have me do? How do I walk the way of obedience?”

Elisabeth Elliot in past recording: There’s a spiritual principle here—the same one that went into operation when Jesus went to the cross: It’s the principle of the corn of wheat—the offering up of ourselves, our bodies, our worlds, our plans, our deepest heart desire to God is the laying down of our lives for the life of the world. This is the mystery of sacrifice.

Ellen: Elisabeth Elliot had been greatly shaped in that kind of mindset early on, when she was just fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old, by the writings of Amy Carmichael.

Nancy: Yes. In fact, she was the biographer—one of the biographers—of Amy Carmichael, A Chance to Die.

Ellen: Yes. A Chance to Die. Now, there’s a title!

Nancy: Right!

Ellen: Marketers would not like that. Who’s going to buy that book?! But Amy Carmichael, famously saw missionary life as “a chance to die.” Elisabeth Elliot really picked up on that. She loved Amy Carmichael because there was a mystical sense within Amy of following a God whose ways are often mysterious, that can’t be neatly explained, that can’t be diagrammed.

Also, that there was a practical outworking of serving that God. Amy Carmichael worked with the dispossessed, the poor, and young girls who were being abused in India in her day.

Nancy: Yes, and did it for a lifetime.

Ellen: A lifetime of service in that arena. So for Elisabeth Elliot, “a chance to die” was part of her thinking from her youngest years. We talked about how she was not that surprised, if we can say that, when Jim Elliot was killed. She expected some degree of martyrdom. If it would be a physical martyrdom, like he endured, so be it, if that be God’s will.

But, really, in writing her story, the most dramatic moments of a story, certainly, those usually get the attention. But I think the most profound work in a human life is in the ordinary, mundane, day-in-and-day-out following of Jesus. That’s what I took away from Elisabeth Elliot—both in the most excruciating tragedy she went through as well as in getting up every Monday morning and doing what God was calling her to do, she sought to be faithful. She didn’t depend on, “What do other people think?” or “How do I feel?”

Nancy: In fact, she was kind of legendary for putting people in their place if she felt that they were giving too much way to feelings. She didn’t like people talking about, “I struggle with this,” or “I struggle with that.” It’s not struggle; this is obedience.

Ellen: Well, and she could have, perhaps, been more kind in some of her analysis.

Nancy: I think for a lot of us—and you don’t see this so much in this generation today—it was bracing. It was good for us to have her be that—she was stern at times or I felt that way—but people loved her because she was speaking truth, and the truth sets you free.

In fact, it was interesting that—and I know you’ve picked up on this—that in her later ministry, here she was, a woman in her sixties, seventies, and even a little bit into her eighties, who was still speaking. She could mesmerize a crowd of college students. She had no “cool” factor. In fact, John Piper, in a tribute he wrote about her, talked about how he loved the gap in her front teeth. She never got it fix or straightened. It mattered not at all to her, I’m sure.

She was prim. She was proper. She didn’t use slang. She didn’t tolerate much of those who did. But she would sit and talk to these college students, and she would be so direct. She would say, “Stay out of bed!” She was just very direct, very plain spoken, but they ate it up because she didn’t coddle them. She didn’t coddle us. She called us to something that is greater and more lasting and secure than our own frail emotions or feelings, and that was to obedience to Christ.

Ellen: Well, that’s what was fascinating for me in trying to discover, “What’s the story here in these early years?” because many of us are familiar with Elisabeth Elliot who you just described. But how does a person become that way?

There are plenty of stories within the pages of this book about the young Elisabeth weeping, in tears, her emotions all over the place. And yet, because she had a very strong foundation, because she was founded on the rock of who Christ was, and she possessed an unusual commitment to Christ, that kept her steady. The habits she developed early on made her into the godly old lady she later became.

Nancy: One of those she learned from Amy Carmichael who said, famously, “In acceptance lies peace.”

If we fight and resist and resent the circumstances God has brought into our lives, we’re going to find ourselves frustrated and angry and resentful. But in acceptance, “Lord, this is the path You have chosen for me,” it’s like Jesus saying, “I delight to do Your will.” He knew the will of God was going to be the cross, but He said, “I’ve come to do Your will.” Elisabeth learned as a young woman, and then modeled for us later in her life, this truth: If I will accept what God chooses for me, what He orders for me, that inexplicably, I will have peace.

Ellen: Right. And the richness of that peace we’ll talk about this later. But as I explored Elisabeth’s thinking, I found that I could do the same because of the grace of Jesus.

Nancy: Yes.

Ellen: One thing that’s related to that, what I loved about this unfolding story, is Elisabeth in her young years was like many of us in our younger years. I grew up in a Christian home. I grew up knowing all the right answers in my head. Right? I had strong theology. I had good training.

But my faith as a young person and then going into college and going into graduate school was not necessarily a faith of realizing the grace of God poured out for me. It was more a faith that was based in performance or knowing the right answers—some degree of legalism. A lot of us can relate to Elisabeth’s story because in her younger years, her Christianity, her faith was a bit aligned with convention, with the culture in which she had grown up.

And what I found, when she was in the Amazon jungle with snakes and frogs and poisonous caterpillars and just threats of all kind, living with naked people in a tribal setting among the people who had killed her husband, in that unlikely setting, I felt like Elisabeth began to divest herself of some of the cultural entrapments that were clinging to her Christian faith.

Nancy: You’re talking about Christian culture?

Ellen: Yes, exactly.

Nancy: Things we pick up in the church even.

Ellen: Yes. Some of that came in the aftermath of her husband’s death. There were people around the world who rallied, who sent so many wonderful messages of support and financial support. Yet there were many who took the story of the five men’s death and presented it as if it was now something that could be used, maybe, to advance a certain cause.

Nancy: They were heroes.

Ellen: Yes. They were heroes, but they were . . . Elisabeth felt like there was some machine at work, almost, creating something rather than just sitting in what God had done and then figuring out, “How do we keep serving Him and moving forward?”

There’s a section in the book where I talk about letters that she got, she and the other widows, after their husbands’ deaths. Elisabeth and the other four widows got letters from men they had never met, proposing marriage to them. They had people who helpfully said, “Why didn’t you just drop New Testaments down to the Waodoni people?” (Never mind that these were illiterate people who had no language.) They had all kinds of invitations to speak all over the world or people who had advice that was not very helpful that they were freely offering.

Elisabeth’s favorite letter she got was from a farmer in Iowa, I think, who wrote that he and his wife had named their five cows after Elisabeth and the other four widows.

Nancy: Perfect!

Ellen: And he said, “And we pray for you girls every day when we milk those cows.” (laughter)

Nancy: I had not seen that one!

Ellen: She loved that!

But in the aftermath of Jim’s death, I think she began to strip away what was in culture and what really was the path of faith that Jesus established with His gospel in the early days of the Church.

Nancy: Well, her Christian life really matured so that it became not some things you do to be a good Christian—“boxes you check off”—which was a lot of the part of her early years, the upbringing lent itself to that. I think a lot of that was that era as well.

Ellen: Yes. That’s true.

Nancy: But it seems as I read this biography, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, that for her more and more, that got stripped away. Christianity is not a performance. It’s not something you do. It is Christ. The preciousness and the dearness of Christ being her life became more her reality.

Ellen: Right. That is an organic thing. That’s not something that is reached through three easy steps or through some technique.

What I found and what I tried to include in the book that enriched me and I hope it will enrich readers is, Elisabeth read widely.

Nancy: Yes, she did.

Ellen: She loves seventeenth century French mystics, and she loves C.S. Lewis, and she loves secular writers who evoked truth, perhaps, through common grace without even knowing it. I found in her literary world and her devotional readings a wealth of saints who had gone before whose words were bracing. They were strengthening. They were timeless.

And, of course, Elisabeth’s immersion and great knowledge of the Scriptures served her well. I’m hoping that that will be a draw for readers who have never heard of Elisabeth Elliot.

Here was a woman who had determined to follow Jesus, even to death if it meant so. And it didn’t happen to mean her physical death, but she died daily in so many different ways of denying self and following Jesus. It was like a pilgrimage almost, a journey that was authentic.

She didn’t care what other people thought. When her feelings were rising up inside of her and threatening to overwhelm her or cause her to just get in a cul-de-sac of self-contemplation, she would, in fact, continue, “What is the next step? What is the next step?” I find that very useful.

Nancy: As we’ve been talking, Ellen, I’m thinking about that passage in Hebrews chapter 13, where the writer to the Hebrews said, “Remember your leaders.”

Now, keep in mind, just two chapters earlier is that great hall of faith. Men and women who’ve gone before us, who have not flawlessly but with determination followed the Lord by faith when they could not see the outcome. Many of them perished for that faith. None of them in this lifetime received all that God had promised to them. But they’re held up to us—not because they’re perfect, not because their paragons of virtue—but because they point us to the Lord. They point us to Christ.

We come to the end of the book of Hebrews, which is written to a group of dispersed and persecuted believers. In the first century after the life, death, resurrection of Christ, many were being persecuted for their faith. They could have thought, What am I going to get out of this? Where is this going to end? Where is this going to go?

They could have pulled back, but the Scripture points us to those who were examples, and it says, “Remember your leaders. Those who spoke to you the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

So we remember Abraham and Moses and David and Joshua and Deborah, and these other leaders, but we also remember the Elisabeth Elliots, the Jim Elliots. We don’t remember them as “It’s not the end of the road.” The end of the road is Jesus. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

As Betty Howard was becoming Elisabeth Elliot that we knew and loved in her later years and we hope you will write about some day, she was growing to see that Christ is the outcome. Christ is the journey. Christ is the reason. Christ is your life. It’s not successfully reaching a tribe that needs the gospel. It’s not writing books or telling your story in amazing ways. Those were by-products at the end of the day.

Those were by-products of a woman who from childhood through her college years, her young-adult years, her marriage to Jim Elliot, her early years as a widow, as a mom with a young child, day after day, putting one foot in front of the other, said, “I’m going to press on to know Christ. I’m going to trust Him. I’m going to obey Him when I can’t see where He’s leading. I’m going to accept the circumstances He brings into my life as it’s up to Him. I’m not writing the story. I’m going to let Him do that.

As I’ve read Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, I found myself, as much as I thought I knew about her, being freshly inspired to trust and pursue Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Ellen: The thing I love about the Hebrews sections that you quoted, and certainly the whole gamut of Scripture, is that it is so clear that the people God chooses and uses for His purposes are flawed. The story of Scripture, Old Testament, New Testament, throughout, is really full of characters that we can relate with.

And Elisabeth Elliot would certainly say the same about herself. During the time for which she is best known—this missionary who went and served among the tribal people who killed her husband—she was not thinking glorious missionary thoughts. She was thinking, I have never felt so useless in my entire life.

Nancy: She wrote that in her journal?

Ellen: In her journal. And, “If I were running my own life, I would quit now.”

Nancy: I love that! We’ve been there!

Ellen: Yes. She goes on in that same journal selection, which I quote in the book, and brings up great missionary heroes from the past who felt the same thing, “Were it not for the presence of Christ, I would have lost my mind and quit long ago.” Those kinds of quotes from the great saints of the modern church.

Nancy: But she didn’t quit. She didn’t run. Not because she was extraordinary, but because Christ in her was.

Ellen: Right. And that’s the take-away. Sometimes someone like Elisabeth Elliot, because of her later stature, can seem in a class by herself. I think what I gained from this book is that, oh my goodness, we are all jars of clay—which we know theologically—but it’s true. The Lord somehow puts up with us and loves us and showers His grace on us and uses us for His purposes. Sometimes we get to see wonderful “results.” Other times we see nothing. It seems like futility.

That’s how Elisabeth Elliot felt a lot of the time. “What I’m doing is futile.” But she knew it wasn’t up to her to determine or give judgments on what God was doing or not doing.

Nancy: You may be feeling that very way today as a mom with little kids or teenage kids or grown kids who’ve walked away from the Lord. You feel, “Everything I’ve poured into them has gone up in smoke. It’s been futile.”

Or maybe, in the season with those littles, you feel like, “If it were up to me, I would run away. I would quit. If I were running my own life, I would quit.” So you have those feelings.

Maybe as a single woman you’re feeling like, “My life is going nowhere. It’s drifting. It’s not purposeful. What I got my degree in, I’m not being able to use.” Or, “I had these dreams of serving Christ and being useful to Him, and I feel so useless.”

Elisabeth Elliot felt useless at times. Now we look back, and we say, “How did she feel that?” But we’re looking back in retrospect. What she did in the moment was to not let those feelings control her life. She stared them in the face. She acknowledged them. She wrote them in her journal. She acknowledged them. But then she put the next foot down and the next one and said, “I’m going to do the next thing. I’m going to accept where God has put me. I’m going to trust that He’s writing the story that I can’t see.”

It’s this long obedience in the same direction that God honored. Now, that doesn’t mean the fruit of our lives is going to be that we’ve written all of these many books or done a radio ministry like Elisabeth Elliot did or been a great, celebrated conference speaker. That’s not the point.

The point is she pursued Christ, and in pursuing Him, she found Him and introduced us to Him. And God wants to do the same through your life as you pursue Him today.

Ellen, thank you for writing this authorized biography of the early years of Elisabeth Elliot. (Hopefully with the next one yet to come.) I want you to have a copy of this book. I think it’s so rich and will encourage you in your pursuit of Christ.

Dannah: Well, Ellen’s book, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, is included as a welcome gift to you this month if you sign up and become a member of ourMonthly Partner Team.

That book is on the coffee table in my living room already. It’s such a beautiful book. But the power of it is in the story inside. As I learned the secrets about Elisabeth I’d not known before, it’s like she’s discipling me all over again.

I would love for you to have a copy of this book, too, and we’ll send it to you when you become a Revive Our Hearts Monthly Partner. Now, our Monthly Partners are those who support the ministry and the vision of Revive Our Hearts with a gift of at least $30 each month. They pray for the ministry of Revive Our Hearts on a daily basis—not just for God to provide for us, but also that He would use us as He sees fit.

Our partners share the message of living with freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ with those in their circle of influence.

And this month when you join the Monthly Partner Team, in addition to the authorized biography of Elisabeth Elliot, you’ll also receive our “Best of the Decade” CD set, a free conference registration each year to attend a True Woman or Revive conference. And this year, of course, we’re taking a break because of the pandemic, but, Lord willing, there will be more conferences in coming years.

You’ll also receive five of the books based on, and including, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s runaway bestseller, Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free.

You know, after Nancy wrote that book, women were writing to say the lies began in their teen years. And that’s how Nancy and I met nearly fifteen years ago, blossoming a beautiful friendship, when she asked me to help her write, Lies Young Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, the second book in the series.

By the way, this month I’m hosting an online Bible study for teen girls and their mothers or grandmothers based on Lies Young Women Believe. I’d be so happy to have you join me if you have a teenage girl in your life. We’ll dig into the top twenty lies young women believe and, more importantly, the truth they need to be set free.

You can learn more at my website:MyTrueGirl.com. Just click the big, yellow online studies button when you get there.

You know, it’s ministry to women, teens, and even tweens that you’re supporting when you become a Monthly Partner. We want women of all ages to walk in freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness. Would you pray about whether God would have you become a member of the Revive Our Hearts Monthly Partner Team?

You can see all the details and make your donation when you visitReviveOurHearts.com, or feel free to call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Nancy?

Nancy: Ellen, my hope is that many women who knew and loved Elisabeth in her later years will get a copy of this book, but that also many who didn’t know anything about her, and there’s some women around who really didn’t like Elisabeth Elliot because she said some things that were really controversial about the whole feminist movement—she had some things to say that just were counter-cultural.

Ellen: Yes, in her later years. She hadn’t made those comments yet in her early life.

Nancy: She hadn’t made those comments in her early years, but I want you to see the background and how she was shaped, how she became the woman that we knew and loved, most of us, this Elisabeth Elliot.

So, Ellen, thank you for joining us today on Revive Our Hearts. I want to ask you to come back for one more program because, at the end of this book you share what I think is a moving conclusion about how in God’s providence researching this book was something that really ministered to you deeply at a time of need. You don’t want to miss that on the next Revive Our Hearts.

Reminding you to trust and obey. Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Speakers

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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Ellen Vaughn

Ellen Vaughn

Ellen is a New York Times bestselling author and speaker who has written or co-written twenty-three books. Former vice president of executive communications at Prison Fellowship, she collaborated with the …

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