Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Episode Resources

Learn more about the National Bible Bee.

Leslie Basham: Hannah Leary has memorized a lot of Bible verses . . . a lot!

Hannah Leary: “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them . . .’” (Eccl. 12:1 NKJV).

Leslie: One reason she learned these verses was to participate in a competition, but she says the real value of all that Scripture memory has less to do with winning a contest and more to do with life itself.

Hannah: Just to have that Word living and active in my own heart and the Lord using it to speak to my life . . . And yes, life gets complicated, and life is hard, and there are decisions and there’s confusion. But really, the Word of God is so simple. He just wants us to love Him, to know Him, and then to make Him known to this world.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of Seeking Him, for April 25, 2018.

Every year thousands of families participate in an exciting Scripture memory program called The National Bible Bee. Recently, Nancy sat down to talk about the Bible Bee with the Benham brothers, Jason and David—along with Hannah Leary, a young lady who shares their excitement for The Bible Bee.

Each of these guests has served as co-host for The Bible Bee’s televised national competition. Let’s join their conversation.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I have been following The National Bible Bee for a number of years, and when the national competition comes on in late fall, November/December, I sit there glued to my laptop watching the livestream!

I’ve done this for a number of years, just thinking I wish I had been able to do this when I was a kid. I would have been all about this! I had the blessing, the joy of growing up in a home where the Scripture was honored and where we were in the Word and we were encouraged to memorize Scripture.

But nothing like this existed back then—that we knew of—and I’m just spellbound watching these kids who have memorized Scripture reciting it, and being encouraged to study the Word, to get it into their hearts. I’m going, “Yes, yes, this is amazing!”

So I’m very excited today to be able to interview and talk with—to have a conversation with—a number of the people who are connected with The National Bible Bee. We’ll be talking with some of the kids who have participated in it in recent years, some of their parents, and then Jason and David Benham, twin brothers . . . I’m looking at them right now. I’m sure they can tell each other apart, but I’ve got nametags in front of them, because I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. Jason and David, welcome to Revive Our Hearts.

Jason Benham: Thanks for having us on; it’s an honor.

David Benham: Awesome to be here!

Nancy: And today we also have Hannah Leary, who’s been a part of The National Bible Bee for years. We’ll be telling some of her story. This is our first time to meet, but I feel like I know you, Hannah. I had to hug you when you walked in the room, because I’ve been watching you since you were a girl. 

You are now a woman who loves the Word of God and is encouraging others to do the same. We have moms listening today, young women, older women, grandmoms—and I hope that this conversation is going to encourage you to get your children into the Word, get the Word into them—and maybe participate in The National Bible Bee.

We’ll be giving you some information about how you can do that in a summer study that’s coming up and then potentially in the competition that takes place in early December. So, thank you all for being a part of this.

Hannah, I want to turn to you first. You come from a large family. Tell us a little bit about your family.

Hannah: Yes, I am the oldest of ten kids. there are seven girls and three boys. 

Nancy: And the youngest in your family is . . .

Hannah: Just a little one. He’ll be one in July. I am just so thankful for the foundation I was given in my family, a family that loves the Word of God and we’re centered around it. Each morning we would have family devotions and be reading the Word together and be encouraged to have our own personal time with the Lord in devotions.

One of the main things that encouraged our family and was a tool called The National Bible Bee. That’s something I was able to be involved in ever since the very first year.

Nancy: How old were you when you started participating in this?

Hannah: I was twelve years old.

Nancy: Is this something you wanted to do, or is it something your parents made you do?

Hannah: Growing up, I participated in spelling bees and geography bees, and I did not ace those. That was not my forte at all. But I enjoyed the competition, and I enjoyed just the friendly motivation to study those things and to be involved.

We saw this ad in a magazine, and it was this The National Bible Bee, and I said, “Oh, Mom and Dad, what is this about?” It was the first year, the inaugural year, of the Bible Bee back in 2009. We were just excited. We kind of didn’t know what it was, but I was like, “Mom and Dad, is this something we could do?”

So we signed up, and we’ve been hosts ever since!

Nancy: “We” being . . . are a lot of your brothers and sisters involved in it?

Hannah: Yes. I was the one who initially came to Mom and Dad, but a lot of my siblings have participated. I’m the oldest, so there are still a lot of them who are able to participate and have participated in the summer study and even at the National competition as well.

Nancy: So when you were twelve years old, you were memorizing Scripture for the Bible Bee. I know some of the details of it have changed since then, but how many verses did you have to memorize that first year?

Oh, it was so much! When we signed up, it was kind of like, “Is this going to be Bible trivia questions that we’re going to be asked?” I had no idea! It was the first year, but we signed up. We got this package in the mail. It was this big box of verse cards.

That first year it was over a thousand verses that we had to learn, and it was overwhelming! You’re like, “Am I ever . . . can I . . . is this even possible?!” I didn’t even finish memorizing all the verses that first year.

But it was so encouraging and motivating to me, and it was amazing. Even though I didn’t complete the goal, I had this high goal to shoot for, and because I had that high goal, it made me learn more than I ever thought I could possibly do before. It encouraged me so much!

After the competition was over that first year, I looked at what I had memorized and I was like, “Oh, I have a lot of Ephesians 1 and some of Ephesians 2, and Ephesians 4. I might as well just memorize the whole book!”

So I went ahead and memorized the book of Ephesians, and it just snowballed from there. I was able to memorize books of the Bible and wanted to compete again the next year. It just was so encouraging over the years to have memorized thousands of verses and learn how to study a book of the Bible for myself and just be hours and hours invested into the Word of God. Looking back, I just can’t think of a better way to have spent those days of my youth.

Nancy: Now, I know some people are listening to this and they’re thinking, She’s a wonder child! But this is not something that other kids could ever do. And we’re going to talk over these next couple of days about how Scripture memory—and not just memorizing it in your head but also getting it into your heart—is a goal that every child and every adult can be actively involved in.

I want to bring Jason and David into the conversation. You guys are businessmen. You’ve had some controversial stands that you’ve taken over the years and have been courageous, and I want to just say “thank you” for being faithful to Christ and for representing Him in everything you’ve done. 

Jason: Thank you.

Nancy: You’ve been a great witness and encouragement and a challenge to others, I know.

David: Well, praise the Lord! We’re very thankful. You know, Hannah said she started the Bible Bee competition when she was twelve years old. Jason and I had given our hearts to Jesus at the age of twelve. Now we’re forty-two. We’re a little bit older! [to Hannah] I’m more than double your age. 

Hannah: You could be my dad! (laughter)

David: Wow!

Jason: I never even thought of that! I’m glad you brought it up. (Hannah laughs.)

David: I am old! Those crow’s feet look even deeper on Jason’s eyes now. But we gave our hearts to Jesus when we were twelve. I remember coming back from the youth camp, and our dad told us, “Boys, now it’s time to take that journey from your heart to your head.”

Now of course we live in the heart, and all of these things, but he said, “You need to develop a theology to get into God’s Word, and then make that theology your biography . . . and live it out in your marriage, with your finances, the way you guys play baseball . . . and all these things.”

So we got into God’s Word. Had we have had a competition called The National Bible Bee when we were kids, I can’t imagine how many Scriptures we would have memorized. As it is, Jason only knows John 3:16. (laughter)

But outside of that, at least we can carry our Bible around. Now we’ve got cell phones that have the Bible app on there.

Jason: Well, and I would follow up just to say that our mom was a faithful woman. She loved the Lord with all her heart. She went to be with the Lord about six months ago.

I remember, David and I for so long—as we were being raised in that house, before we left for Liberty University at eighteen—we would see our mom reading. She would be sitting in a little chair; she would have a burgundy Bible; she’d have it open. There weren’t a whole lot of notes in there. 

And there was a stack of Reader’s Digests. Do you remember the little Reader’s Digest books? She would devour that. She would read God’s Word. And when we would come upon her, we were like, “Mom, what are you doin’?”

She was just like, “I’m just reading my Bible.” And you know, she never really opened it up and exposited to us—my dad always did that—but just seeing my mom faithful in God’s Word, it began to create an appetite in us for the exact same thing.

And now, I actually have a burgundy Bible. I probably read more my electronic Bible than anything . . . but that was an example of a faithful woman who just modeled what she wanted her boys to do for themselves.

Nancy: Okay, listen up Moms! You’re preaching by your kids seeing what matters to you, what’s important to you, what you spend your time on when you have free moments.

And that doesn’t mean you have to always be reading your Bible. But if your kids never see you reading your Bible—or if they don’t see it regularly—that’s “preaching,” too. Jason and David, the ways that God is using you today, there were seeds that were planted in your hearts by both your mom and your dad, and it was about God’s Word.

David: Can I just say one thing on that? This is David. I’m much smarter than Jason. (laughter)

Jason: If he were really smarter, he wouldn’t have to announce it! (laughter)

David: In the Scripture, it says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6 KJV). That word “train up”—the Hebrew word is “to touch the palate of” or “to cultivate a taste for.” 

Hebrew mothers and midwives would chew celery or carrots or whatever, and they’d pull it out of their mouth, put it on the tip of their finger, and touch the palate of their infant child. That would engage the salivary glands, which would give them the ability to digest that food, to eat that food, to consume it. It would create an appetite in their lives.

So often, we as parents—and especially with our mom. . . You would think, Well I just really want to teach these kids! Quite often, it’s just “touching the palate” of their lives with things that you do that they’re watching. They’re seeing you in His Word. I remember our dad used to run. Every day he would jog, and he would have 3 x 5 cards in his hands. These 3 x 5 cards were verses that were written. He’d get done running, and they were curled up and all sweaty.

But between watching our mom read the Scripture and watching our Dad memorize the Scripture as he was jogging, that cultivated in us a desire—and created an appetite in us—to do that exact same thing.

So that’s very encouraging to moms and grandmas and all these young ladies that are out there listening to this show—that you are leading people! Leadership’s the ability to create an appetite in those who follow you.

Nancy: And now you and Jason, between you, have nine children!

Jason: We do; we have a baseball team. It’s co-ed, but it’s a baseball team!

Nancy: So, you and your wives—Lori and Tori—are doing the same thing for your children today.

Jason: Yes they are, and believe it or not, we live on the same street—five doors down. Lori’s devouring the Word of God in the morning when she wakes up. My wife is doing the same, and then adding in the element of prayer.

You know, when you’re communicating with God and your kids can walk into your room and see you on your knees talking to the Lord . . . David and I, it was the same way with us. When we woke up every morning, we caught our dad either reading His Bible. 

And we just talked about how my mom was always faithful. She was more of an afternoon Bible reader; my Dad was always early morning. So he was either reading his Bible, or he was on his knees in front of our couch, praying. It was one of those two things. I do not remember a morning where he wasn’t doing one of those things.

You know that verse in Proverbs 22:6, as David said, to train up a child in the way that they should go, and “in the end” they won’t depart from it . . .

“In the end”—that’s the encouragement for moms out there right now, and dads out there. “In the end” they won’t depart. Now, it doesn’t say anything about “in the process,” because I can tell you a few things about David! I’ll let you know the process was a little tough for him. But in the end, “they won’t depart from it.”

Nancy: Because those are seeds that are being planted, and God is faithful to water them and to bring forth fruit in His way and in His time. As I’m listening to you, I’m thinking of my own parents. My dad, who has been with the Lord since the weekend of my twenty-first birthday, and my mom is just turning eighty now. But the joy of growing up in that home and seeing the centrality of the Word of God. Knowing that my dad was getting into the Word first thing in the morning and on his knees was more important to him . . . not in a legalistic way, but it was life to him.

He couldn’t eat breakfast or go to work or do anything, not because he wasn’t allowed to, but because his hunger and his heart was for the Word of God. And my mother followed suit with that. It’s an indelible imprint on my own heart.

We’re sitting here, four adults in this conversation, all looking back. My husband would say the same thing, growing up in the home of Sam and Grace Wolgemuth. Today, who we are, has been hugely shaped . . . the things we love, the things we hunger after, the vocations and avocations we’re pursuing, have been hugely shaped by dads and moms—and in some of our cases, grandparents—who loved Christ, loved His Word.

That’s really what this whole National Bible Bee is attempting to do. As I’ve looked at it—and you all are much more familiar with it than I am—one of things I love is, it’s not just getting kids rote memorizing Scripture.

There is an aspect of that—there are no shortcuts to memorizing Scripture, at least not many that I have found. I mean, you just review and review and review and review, and you say it over and over and over again.

But the Bible Bee participants are not just memorizing Scripture, they’re actually studying the Scripture and getting into God’s Word. And Hannah, as you think back to the competitions that you’ve participated in with the National Bible Bee, tell us a little bit about the study aspect, the meditating on Scripture, the getting to understand it.

Hannah: Yes, so the mission of the National Bible Bee is to know God’s Word and to make Him known. Like you said, it’s not like this just rote memory so we can just spew out these verses for the competition, but it’s knowing it. It's not just up in their heads but in our hearts.

They do such a great job for the summer study, which is the first step of the National Bible Bee (which is open to every young person in America). They can sign up for that, and it runs over the summer, and they get a Discovery Journal.

This Discovery Journal unpacks a specific passage of Scripture. Last year it was Genesis 1–3; so the theme was "Created." For eight weeks of the summer, these young people are studying that passage of Scripture and digging into it, and asking questions, looking up cross-references, and just really getting to know the passage and understanding it.

Nancy: Now, we’re talking like seven-year-old kids, ten-year-old kids, twelve-year-old kids can do this.

Hannah: It’s age-appropriate, and it’s very interactive and doable. In twenty minutes a day this study can be done. It’s broken up into four different categories:

  • Beginners are five- and six-year-olds. 
  • Primaries are seven through ten. 
  • Juniors are eleven through fourteen.
  • Seniors are fifteen through eighteen.

Each group has age-specific Discovery Journals for their category, but it’s all the same theme. That’s why it’s so great for families. It’s been something we’ve used in our own family. We each have our individual study that is age-appropriate, but we’re able to come around it together as a family as well because we’re all studying Genesis 1–3, Created. We’re all digging into it and learning things, and we’re able to discuss that and have that common study together and encouragement as a family to get into His Word.

Nancy: David and Jason, I’d love to hear how you guys got involved. You don’t seem like quite the age for this National Bible Bee. 

Jason: Why, thank you!

David: We would have absolutely loved to have gotten involved early in life, but unfortunately we got involved late. A few years ago Emeal Zwayne with Living Waters and Ray Comfort, and Kirk Cameron reached out to us and said, “Hey guys, we’re hosting the National Bible Bee Game Show, which is part of the National Bible Bee competition. We’d like you two to come and host it in San Antonio.”

We said, “Well, what is this?”

They explained to us all the verses these kids memorize and the different age divisions, and the fact that it’s a competition, and that the family that’s behind this actually puts real money toward this—hundreds of thousands of dollars to all of the winners. It’s just amazing; Jason and I were blown away! And so we said, “Okay, we’re intrigued.”

Because, I mean, Scripture clearly says that the Word of God is way more valuable than silver and gold. And to put this type of value on Scripture memorization . . . So we flew to San Antonio three years ago and hosted the first Bible Bee Game Show with Kirk Cameron. 

Nancy: I remember seeing that. 

David: That’s right, and we met Hannah there the past winter, and Jason and I were blown away! We’ve built several companies on the principles of Scripture, and our children are getting older now, and just to look back and say, “Wow! I see what Scripture has done in our lives.”

I can’t imagine these kids! When you really begin to move this into the hearts of this culture, I mean, it can really change lives and change the directions of this nation! So Jason and I were very excited to be involved with it. This is now our third year, and we don’t plan on not being involved in any way, any time soon.

Nancy: As you’ve watched these kids participating in the study, you see them at the end—the finalists, the kids who qualify to go to the competition—but there are thousands more who are doing the summer study, and the ones at the competition in the fall are the ones who have gotten that far. 

As you look at those kids and you interact with them during the week of the competition, what are your observations about the impact of Scripture study, memorization, and meditation on the lives of the young people?

Jason: This is Jason speaking, and I can tell you one thing that I find is really interesting . . . I’ve got two things to say on this: the first is that I’ve never seen kids with such good attitudes before in my life!

My brother and I ended up playing professional baseball, so we competed forever, you know! Our dad also taught us how competition is supposed to build you up, not tear you down, and the only way that that happens is to remove comparison. So you just do your best, don’t compare yourself with anybody else, and just do your best.

These kids know all this stuff, and it’s like they don’t even have to be trained in this. I can remember one time in particular, a guy named Caleb—he actually didn’t win—and he was going up hugging everybody.

I talked to him afterward and said, “Caleb, man you’ve got such a good attitude. Where did you get this? What’s your source?”

He said, “You know, I memorize all this Scripture; it’s in my heart, and now it’s the way that I live.”

David: And you’re talking about a young kid with fifty-thousand dollars on the line, and he’s right there at the door, about to get it, and he loses! And he’s hugging these other kids. That really spoke to Jason. I was like, “Man, Jason, are you watching this? You should learn from this!” (laughter) It was really amazing; it was very impactful.

Jason: These young kids are actually really good examples for adults to watch. And then the second thing I would say is, when these young kids are walking off the stage and they didn’t win or whatever, and I’m seeing them in the hallways (because you know there’s only going to be a few winners), I always tell 'em, “God’s Word will not return void and when you hide it in your heart, this gives you an opportunity now when you get drug before kings and magistrates, don’t worry beforehand what to say. The Holy Spirit will give you utterance. What will happen in those times? (see Luke 12:11–12)

Because David and I were there. When we got fired by HGTV, and we got put on all these shows! What happens is, the Holy Spirit’s going to speak through you when two things happen: when you love the people who are accusing you, and number two, when you’ve got God’s Word hidden in your heart. The Holy Spirit will pull things out of your heart that you’ve maybe even forgotten!

So these young kids . . . If there’s one thing that I’ve heard some folks say in the past: “Well, they’re just memorizing to get it in their head, but they can’t really defend it or anything like that.”

I say, “It doesn’t matter. They get the foundations of it in their minds and in their hearts, and then one day . . ." I mean, how many of us sang "Amazing Grace" when we were kids and then, sure enough, when you go through a tough time, all the sudden that song pops in your head.

God does the same thing through the Holy Spirit in our hearts when we have put God’s Word into our hearts.

David: The logos Word becomes a rhema Word, and it will greatly equip these kids.

Hannah: My last year competing I was seventeen, and the passage that I was really enjoying studying was really convicting to me. I had competed for six years, and I had never won anything. I was kind of struggling with that attitude of competition like, “Oh, I want to win!”

I had this attitude of, “All this studying and memorizing, is it really worth it?” God just used this one passage in my life that year as we were memorizing in preparation for the competition. It was Ecclesiastes 12.

 And it starts off, Ecclesiastes 12:1, “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, ‘I have no pleasure in them . . .’” (NKJV).

And, you know, here I am as a seventeen-year-old senior in high school saying, “Is it really worth it to be spending so many hours spending God’s Word?” You know, “Has it been worth it for these past six years?” I wanted to move on and was just kind of struggling with some of those things.

As I was competing that year—in the competition and at the game show—the final passage I was asked to recite was that passage.

Nancy: Wow!

Bible Bee game show host: Hannah, please recite Ecclesiastes 12:1–14.

Hannah from Bible Bee: Ecclesiastes 12:1–14: “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say . . .” 

Hannah: I had learned it in my head, and I had been speaking it, and it was convicting me throughout the whole season. But as I stood there and I was speaking it at the final competition, it just overwhelmed my heart. 

The Lord just was saying, “No! I’ve given you this time as a young person. That is your opportunity to build that foundation, to be equipped with the Word of God, so that you can take it and live it out in your life. And who knows what you’re going to face in the days to come? There’s going to be hard times, and you’re going to need that foundation.”

And as a young person growing up in modern-day America, there’s so many things bombarding young people today and so many different messages: What’s important? What’s the meaning of life? What does the future hold? All these different things. . .

And Ecclesiastes 12:13–14 ends by saying, “[This is] the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (NKJV).

And as I was saying that—you know, my last passage that I was going to be reciting in this competition (and I knew that was my last passage), and saying, “this is the conclusion of the whole matter . . .”

Hannah from Bible Bee: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:1–14.”

Bible Bee game show host: Wow! Good job!

Hannah: And just to have that Word, living and active in my own heart, and the Lord using it to speak to my life. Yes, life gets complicated, and life is hard. There are decisions, and there’s confusion. But really, the Word of God is so simple. He just wants us to love Him, to know Him, and then to make Him known to this world. That just gives me so much hope and confidence and peace as I face my future . . . not because I know what my future holds, but because I know the One who holds my future!

Nancy: Wow, and I’m listening to this twenty-year-old young woman whose heart is filled with the ways of God, the heart of God. I don’t think we probably have a whole lot of twenty-year-olds listening to us have this conversation, but we have a lot of moms, a lot of grandmoms, a lot of single women who have some young women in your life, some young people in your life, that you could be encouraging.

Listen, these kids can memorize. They do memorize lots of things: sports stats, celebrity information, stuff about the news.

It’s so much easier to memorize, I think, as a younger person than it is for me today as an older woman. So, moms, grandmoms, dads, uncles, aunts, older brothers and sisters, this is a huge gift you can give to those young people in your life. Model to them, and then find ways, maybe through the National Bible Bee or through whatever means, to get those kids to have a hunger and an appetite and a love for God’s Word.

Hannah: A lot of times, people look at the National Bible Bee and especially the finalists and as we co-host the competition—even me, as having gone through it, as I listen to the young people—it’s like, “Wow! They’ve done so much! They pour so many hours in!”

A lot of times we can look at that and be like, “I could never do that!” or “There is no way I could memorize that much Scripture or get my kids to memorize that much Scripture!”

What I really love about the National Bible Bee is, it doesn’t start there. It doesn’t start with thousands of verses and this huge stage and intense competition. It starts with this fun and interactive summer study that is doable in twenty minutes every day.

They’re given fourteen passages—or a small amount of passages—to memorize in the summer. It just starts small. It’s in a fun summer study group where you’re doing it with a community of other people along with you. 

You’re able to just start where you’re at and use that in families and in churches and in different school groups or in different things like that. The Bible Bee gives you that fun taste for it, and then you’re able to build from there.

It’s amazing, and you’re surprised to see, “Oh, I can really do this! This is something I can do!” It gives you that appetite for learning more.

Nancy: It’s daily. It’s a little bit at a time, line upon line, precept upon precept. Some of you moms are wondering what in the world you’re going to do to keep your kids entertained this summer—how to keep them out of trouble, how to keep them doing something productive. You don’t want them to spend the whole summer just playing and goofing off. This is not something that will consume their whole summer, but something that can be a thread that runs through their summer. 

Actually, the reason we’re airing this conversation now in the spring is because this is the sign-up period for the summer study. If you go to ReviveOurHearts.com, we’ve got a link there that will take you to the Bible Bee and give you the information about how you can sign up.

Jason and David, this is something that families can do, that groups of families can get together and do to make a meaningful summer project.

David: There are several churches that do this as well. They can apply this into their youth groups or into their Sunday school programs. And it’s perfect for the homeschool community. Even the private schools, the Christian schools, can then apply this summer study program to their kids.

They can create incentives for their kids over the summer. I mean, there are thousands upon thousands of kids that already doing this! This is a great time for us to synergize and get this involved into our homes, and the folks at the National Bible Bee have made it so easy.

As our dad used to say, parachurch ministries and other things sometimes are the wheels to kind of mobilize the local church. This is like a vehicle that is already running; just slide your family in it for twenty minutes a day, and it will move you further up and further in to God’s purpose for your family.

Leslie: Again, to get your family involved in the National Bible Bee summer study—that already-running vehicle that David Benham mentioned—just cruise on over to ReviveOurHearts.com and follow the links there.

We’ll hear more from David and Jason Benham tomorrow, along with some of the young people who have actually competed in the National Bible Bee Game Show. Please join us tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help get your family into God’s Word. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the NKJV unless otherwise noted.

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