Jamba Juice and White Picket Fences

A year ago, I never would’ve walked all the way to Jamba Juice from my apartment.

Not only is it a mile walk, but it’s also smack dab in the middle of Chicago in August; meaning hot and humid and so not worth the effort. But on Wednesday, I found myself back in the Midwest on a spontaneous surprise trip without a car and a craving for the smoothies I missed most in Rwanda, so I took off without really thinking about it.

I thought I had prepared myself for re-entry into the United States. Everyone had prepped me for the emotions and the heartache and the culture shock, and I thought maybe because I knew ‘everything there was to know’ about it I’d be fine.

I wasn’t.

As I meandered past gorgeous two-story homes and sky-scrapers, it hit me that just two days earlier, I had been walking past mud-and-sticks huts with people in bare feet and fifty pounds balanced on their heads. I realized that– deep down– I had wanted to walk, considering the fact that I had been walking double or triple the distance from my apartment to Jamba Juice on a regular basis for the past two months. As I walked, I became conscious of the fact that I was surrounded by paved roads and side walks and mailboxes at end of quaint little driveways with white picket fences.

It was all too much.

I grabbed the trunk of a nearby tree as cars flashed by and my phone vibrated with text message after text message and horns blared and…

Tears pooled in my eyes with each deep breath. The faces of my students and the village kids kept appearing across my heart. What was I doing back in the United States? Why was I back here in the midst of Mercedes Benz’s and Lulu Lemon and  McDonalds? I wanted to walk up to every person and shake their shoulders and scream, “DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD?” Two days earlier, I was an hour away from rebel armies in the Congo. Now, the most renowned point an hour away was a gigantic outlet mall.

How could I even begin to explain what I’d been living in for the past two months? Would I ever be able to make people here understand what I experienced?

In a way, I don’t know if I ever will. There’s a joke among some ex-pats in Rwanda. When other people ask what it is that they do overseas, they have a simple answer: “Sit around and cry.” And it’s true. Because the only word I’ve found that adequately describes Rwanda is raw. The history and the people and the stories are so deeply enriched with such raw, real emotion that it’s hard to go a few days without tearing up in an ordinary conversation. There, you are not distracted by the materialism and consumerism and technology that has become a plague in modern society and instead focus on relationships and hearts and souls.

Tomorrow will mark a week since I’ve left Rwanda. The past seven days– though the reunions with loved ones have been so incredibly sweet– have been some of the most difficult. I feel as though I’m in limbo, just a body with no real place in the world. Not to mention the jet lag that still hasn’t worn off.

In this process of re-entry, I pray that my heart does not become hardened. I do not want to close-up and become this pessimistic version of myself because I do not know how to relate what I saw across the world to the American society we live in today. I pray I would be the kind of person David Benner spoke of when he defined transformation:

“Transformation is not for the faint-hearted. But it is for those whose hearts and spirits and minds are open and ready to become even larger. It is for those who long, and those who dream, and those who seek. It isn’t for the contented. Rather it is for the seeker that is in all of us – seeking the larger places for which we were born, seeking the larger self we dare to hope we really are, seeking the truer self we trust must lie hidden in the clutter of the various selves of our own construction. It is for those who hunger and thirst after being all they can be and are not prepared to settle for anything less.” -David Benner

I pray I would keep my hands open as I seek after the woman God created me to be. There is no doubt in my mind that this trip to Rwanda has been and will continue to be one of the thousands of ways He uses to mold and shape my heart, Although it may be difficult now, everything in my past shows me that I serve a God who redeems and who creates beauty out of ashes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the same in America and in Rwanda and all over the world.

It is to this that I cling in the midst of a time when the direction of my soul feels incredibly up in the air. To the faith that I have in the “God of hope to fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in Him, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)



Good-Byes Are Never Easy…

This is the blog I’ve been dreading for the past week.

Because it means I’m sitting in the Kigali airport waiting for my flight back to the United States.

It really is a crazy experience; feeling like your heart is being split right down the middle. As much as half of me is aches to be home and see everyone I love, I feel like I’m leaving an entire piece of my soul in Rwanda.

Their faces keep flashing in my mind, as small eucharisteo moments tug at my heartstrings.

…All of the nights we transformed the classroom into a movie theater, crowded in with homemade popcorn to watch anything from The Three Musketeers to Castaway.

…Being stopped by one of our students after class to talk about the ways in which our essay topic the day before– how you wanted to be remembered at the end of your life– had kept him up late into the night thinking about his answer.

…Finding myself in the middle of a mud-and-sticks hut eating tree tomatoes and wondering how in the world I was born into a suburban, middle-class American family.

…The girl who confided in me about finding out four years ago that the reason her mother was continually sick was because she was raped by an HIV-positive genocidaire in 1994.

…Convincing Rwandan man after Rwandan man that my purity ring was actually my wedding band, always feeling so proud of myself when I pulled off the scam.

…The two-year-old who I’ve unofficially adopted as my third little sister cutting her chin open a few days ago and giving us matching scars.

…Attending my last church service this morning, with the pastor praying a blessing over me and asking the Lord that I would continue to see “goodness in the land of the living;” the verse that– unbeknownst to him– has been the cry of my heart for the past year.

There’s too many to name, and I hope that over time I’ll be able to communicate even a small fraction of the mighty ways God has transformed my heart and my soul over the past two months in Rwanda. But for now, I’ll continue counting the moments– as much as it hurts to know that I won’t wake up tomorrow morning to the sound of hoes in the field next door– thanking the Lord for allowing me to experience this beautiful country and these beautiful people.

This summer is one that will always hold a special place in my heart. It has been a life-changing chance to see His goodness in thousands of ways… all right smack dab in the middle of the land of the living.

Then, Leaving Her Water Jar

Throughout the villages in the hills of Rwanda, there’s a lack of running water.

Pipes don’t run through mud-and-sticks huts, and they definitely do not run beneath the dirt roads that are overrun by goats and cows. Even if there is a source of running water, it is most likely undrinkable until it’s boiled over an outdoor charcoal stove.

To get water in Musanze, families walk– often for miles– to a centralized water pump in town. There, they wait in line to fill up large, yellow jugs to take back to their homes. Girls not yet 10-years-old strap the weighty containers onto their backs or balance them onto their heads for the return journey in bare feet. In any one day, the trip can be made multiple times, rain or shine.

Every day, I pass by dozens of men, women and children with those yellow jugs on their heads. I always wonder where they’re coming from and how far they have to go; if their body aches under the weight of the water…

And each time I see one of those yellow containers, I wonder if perhaps I too often fall under the same struggle in my own life… Thinking I have to climb mountains or trek for miles in order to have a sip of Living water.

Over and over again, I’m like the Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar. Unable to see past my own brokenness, I believe the lie that the shame of my past dictates who I am and how I am loved in the present. Unable to see past my own inabilities, I succumb to a spirit of fear and insecurity, falling under the delusion that I have to do it all on my own. Unable to see past my own thirst, I feel the need to satisfy parched lips on my own time, on my own accord.

I journey on with that one-track mindset day after day, tirelessly and meticulously thinking the water pump is just over the next hill. I hope that maybe I’ll “work off” my sin with this mile; wash away my failures with the water I find around the bend. While the Giver of Life strides quietly behind me, holding out cupped hands containing an eternal wellspring of Life, I choose to stumble on towards the mirage in the distance. He whispers, “Whoever drinks the water I give her will never thirst,” but under the weight of that yellow container, I’m convinced that I have to make it to the world’s water pumps in order to lay down the burden.

It’s exhausting. And so incredibly unnecessary. As I watch young Rwandans struggle up the mountainside with their jars, my eyes wander down their dark, lanky frames to dirt-caked bare feet…

Bare feet.

We are on holy ground.

We are surrounded by holy ground and surrounded by His Presence and Living water bursts forth from every nook and cranny of this earth, washing away the dirty, dusty realities of who we are and cleansing us no matter how many miles away we stand from the town water pump.

We simply choose whether or not we allow ourselves to be drenched in that flood of Grace. We choose whether or not we abandon our water jars to dance instead in the waters of mercy and redemption.

Christ destroys the need for that centralized water pump because He offered Himself as Living water. He’s already laid His own system of water pipes and running water throughout Rwanda, throughout the world. While it’d be easy to pity those without shoes, I think the Rwandans have it right when they walk around in bare feet…

Because those fetching the life source for their families tread lightly as they walk on holy ground; a daily reminder that we have been given unlimited access to the source of Life for now and forevermore.


“Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”” -John 5:28-29


Musanze’s Water Pump

What’s Better Than the Olympics…

The rain was pouring down, but they didn’t care. Dozens of men in brightly colored yellow, blue and green jerseys flying around the field and kicking the ball around with finesse I’ve only ever seen on television.

The futbol games were held at a local stadium in Musanze, a round robin tournament in honor of Ramadan. Our general manager at the Musanze Opportunity Center was participating in it and invited us to attend. When we found out he was a former member of the Ugandan national team, there was no way we were going to pass up the chance to witness such a legend in action.

Three students, two other staff members and I sat huddled in a row on the bleachers under a roof shielding us from the rain. The two teams played with such skill, such poise, such joy! I could barely sit still. Growing up, I’d only played one year of recreational soccer when I was 13-years-old, but in that moment all I wanted to do was run out onto the field and show everyone in the stadium that a little mzungu girl could compete too. If only they played baseball in Rwanda…

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were going to jump out on the field with them,” a staff member beside me chuckled.

I smiled. I absolutely wished it were true.

As I sat there on those bleachers– 10,000 miles away from home in the middle of Rwanda– I thought about the assortment of Kinyarwanda and English and French and Swahili all around me. For the past two months, I’ve found that Rwanda is a melting pot of dialects but for that afternoon, soccer was the language that we all spoke.

Isn’t that the beauty of sports? That regardless of culture or country or continent, they bring out the fight and the passion within each us? They’re a uniting force blind to skin color and race, choosing instead to simply see the skill and determination of the athletes involved. Here, no one knows what the “NCAA” is. Most don’t even know what “softball” is either. But in truth, those are simply a formality and all that matters is how you compete.

I fell in love with sports as a little girl. I live for come-from-behind wins. I love being a part of team camaraderie. And I love proving people wrong. Northwestern’s softball program has always taken pride in the fact that we play for something much bigger than ourselves, and my stay in Rwanda has only expanded that belief by 10,000 miles.

It expands every time I see a group of kids kicking around a t-shirt tied into a ball with string. It expands when I go jogging through our village and race the local children as they giggle and run alongside me. It expands at the preschool down the road when the four-year-olds wrestle in the dirt during our games of duck-duck-goose. It expands each afternoon I watch Rwandan futbol.  And it expands every time I hear about the Olympics because in spite of not being able to watch them, I feel like I experienced something better; a taste of international competition first-hand.

In Rwanda, I’m simply an athlete. “The softball player from America.” I compete in all of those ways in my day-to-day only to win, nothing else. As I head into my senior year, it’s something I want to keep in perspective as I put on that purple jersey for the last time.

I want to step out onto that field and play for the love of the game, for the beauty of the sport, for wins… and nothing else. I want to compete simply to compete, and on a stage that I have been so incredibly blessed to play on and that is oceans larger than myself.

In the meantime, I have two weeks left in Rwanda and I’ve stumbled upon a softball and two baseball gloves outside the recreational room on our campus. I think it might be time to show some of our students and staff a thing or two…


Do We Want Jesus?

I see them on a late afternoon jog, a group of local villagers sitting on an embankment outside their church building.

It’s hot. And it’s humid. I can see the sweat glistening on their brows. As the breeze hits my face as I run, I can’t imagine sitting motionless in their midst under the sweltering sun.

They’re Seventh Day Adventists who are holding their service outside that Saturday. I have no idea why they aren’t inside the sanctuary– a building made out of sticks and stones just four feet away– but nevertheless, the image they create is striking; over thirty people perched on boulders in the dirt, crowded around two preachers with Bibles.

The scene takes me back to the previous Sunday, when I attended another local Musanze church service at the Evangelical Friends Church. Inside a one-room mud-and-sticks building, we sat on small wooden benches with our feet in the dirt and praised Jesus for four straight hours. Four choirs had rotated up in the front, and it seemed like they were there more to accompany us rather than lead. At two points in the service, the congregation even got called out by one of the women in the choir for not having enough passion.

That memory flashes in my mind as I jog past those Seventh Day Adventists on the hill, and as the images of the two congregations collide, I can’t help but think…

Would we be willing to endure as much in America?

Take away all of the lights and the special effects and the doughnuts in between services. Take away the padded seats and the pretty decorations and the fancy PowerPoint so that we all know the lyrics during worship.

Or further, take away our air-conditioned buildings and gigantic parking lots. Replace them with a mud-and-sticks building with a dirt floor that smells of the animals outside and a woman who calls you out for not singing loud enough that takes two hours to walk to barefoot every single Sunday.

Where would our hearts lie then?

In our services, we sing “You can have all this world, but give me Jesus,” and it reverberates through microphones off the back wall as the video feed scans over the congregation, but is it what we truly believe?

We get frustrated if services go over the two-hour mark or if we get stuck in the overflow. We spend thousands of dollars on technical equipment only to make a fuss if they’re not working correctly, and we make it a point to make sure we get to sit in the pews where the air conditioner doesn’t blow.

We are called to offer up a sacrifice of praise, and yet sometimes it seems like it’s hard to offer up a sacrifice period. We’re content to drop $20 in the offering bowl and spend the rest of our Sunday at the golf course instead of giving a thought to the thousands of ways we could be giving of ourselves and our time. We find it difficult to lift up holy hands or bow down on our knees in worship simply because others will look at us funny.

Do we want Jesus? Or simply the commercialized image of His church that we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking is “enough?”

In Rwanda, I’ve seen people passionately pursue Jesus in humble adoration and worship, to the point where they walk two hours just to do it. To the point where they sit on hard, wooden benches for half the day. To the point where they circle up under the blazing sun just to hear His word.

I want to be that desperate. I want my worship to look like my fellow Rwandans’ because my heart is so deeply in love with the One who created it. I want to make a joyful noise to the Lord, with no thought to what it might sound like to human ears. I want my worship to be stripped of everything but pure joy, fearlessly abandoned to His will and His love. I want to make the daily choice to have life and have it to the full, and I want to be so wrecked by the grace of Jesus that it pours out of me like a fragrant perfume…

Dean– one of my new friends from the MOC and one of the most humble men of God I have ever met– says it like this:

“No one can praise God for you.”

No one and no thing. No choir, no lights, no doughnuts.

Would we really believe that a choir’s song or another person’s prayers over us are enough adoration for our Bridegroom King? We are called into a matrimony of agape love with Yahweh, the Creator of the universe. Surely we wouldn’t cut corners in that relationship for our own convenience and comfort.

The marriages that I have always been so in awe of are those in which husbands and wives place the other above themselves. Marriages where broken things are fixed and love does not necessarily mean romance, but sacrifice. Marriages that– for decades– have pressed on in humility and submission, even when doing so felt uncomfortable.

Oh, that our marriage to Christ as the church might be the same. That being apart of His body meant being surrounded and encouraged by others choosing to follow Him in uncomfortable submission. Pressing on together and drawing strength from the One who is enough, instead from the state-of-the-art building we gather in to do so.

I pray that I never forget what I’ve seen in the churches here. I pray it would forever change my soul in the way I worship the Lord, with others and on my own.

And I pray that the cry of my heart might truly be the song that has been echoing off the hills of Rwanda ever since I arrived five weeks ago…

You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.


“God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him, we live and move and have our being.” -Acts 17:27-28


One of my favorite little girls at the preschool!

One of my favorite little girls at the preschool!

Village Walks

Hello friends!

I wanted to show you what one of our typical village walks (or runs!) looks like through Musanze. I stole this video from a very dear friend to share with you… Enjoy! :)



250. Surprise visits from Joris!

251. Having two new Rwandan dresses that FIT!

252. Cinnamon rolls.

253. “Martha was so busy serving Jesus, she didn’t have time for Jesus.”

254. 6 AM Skype sessions.

255. Scarf shopping at the fabric market.

256. Psalm 37

257. “Awake my soul to live this moment.”

258. The start of the rainy season!!

259. Fast responses to interview requests.



(If the above video doesn’t work, try: http://youtu.be/sr4_LoHVLyM)

Two Palms Up

I can hear the beating of the drum from the street. We walk down the beaten path, and I have to lift up my new Rwandan dress to keep the bottom of the skirt from collecting dust. We turn the corner to find a small building with glassless windows, the singing and dancing from within erupting out of the walls.

We enter amidst an overwhelming welcome, and I find a place in the back row of wooden benches. Everywhere, people are dancing, clapping, singing. The entire right side of the building is filled with children of all ages jumping up and down, and among the adults dancing on my side there are two women shaking tins full of rice. They clap and dance to their own beat, but they all sing the same words. It’s seems to be a repeated phrase chanted in Kinyarwanda.

“What are they singing?” I ask the MOC guard who has brought me to his church.

“Our God gives us good gifts,” he says.


For the rest of worship, I clap my hands and can’t wipe the smile off my face, though I don’t understand the words I am trying to hum along to. After each of the four choirs has taken a turn leading us in songs on stage, the pastors bring all of us visitors up to the front to introduce ourselves to the congregation.

“Muraho,” I say as a greeting into the microphone, and everyone in the church laughs because the only white person in the building is attempting to speak Kinyarwanda. I tell them that I’m incredibly happy to be there. That I come from America, and I’m so thankful for their welcome and hospitality. They smile and nod and continue to laugh, and I begin to wonder if it’s my accent or the fact that I’m trying pull off the same outfit as the dozens of Rwandan women in front of me.

With that, I go back to my seat and for the next four hours, we praise the blood of Jesus. It is the overwhelming theme throughout three sermons, multiple choir performances and many, many prayers. One hundred Rwandans and one mzungu rejoicing in the fact that we are covered– covered— by His death on the cross and the sacrifice that He became for all on Calvary.

Our God gives us good gifts.

Throughout the entire service, I can only pick out one word without the help of my translator. A word that keeps appearing throughout each song and from the mouth of each pastor that transcends languages and continents and races and skin colors.


The God of Israel. The God who promises to bring His people out of their chains and into the freedom of His promises. The God who– through blood of the Lamb that was spilt for all of humankind– promises us the same.

And when I hear the word, I smile. Because I’m going through Leviticus; a book about Yahweh– the God of Israel– that used to be a boring explanation about sacrifice requirements for sin, but is one that has come alive to me in Rwanda. It is no longer ancient instruction for a chosen people. It’s a reminder of the DEBT Christ paid for ME.

Our God gives us good gifts.

The service ends, and the pastor invites me into his home for lunch. We eat and talk– as much as can be said in broken English– and we pray. After we say ‘Amen,’ I ask if they wouldn’t mind translating, and the head pastor peers at me through circular glasses and says, “We thanked the Lord for choosing to bring you here to Rwanda. And we asked that you might return changed, telling everyone what you have seen.”

Our God gives us good gifts.

I thank them for lunch. My guard and I hop on ‘motos’ back to the MOC and as the wind hits my face, the blessings hit my heart. Eucharisteo after eucharisteo.

I’m finding them a bit difficult to digest, though.

Over the past week, I’ve watched three dear friends– including both of my roommates– head back to the States. On the back of that ‘moto,’ I’m wishing they could have been in attendance with me. I felt like I had just settled in, when their departures nudged me right out of my comfort zone.

Why is it still so difficult to open ourselves up to the uncomfortable? Why do we hesitate in allowing Yahweh– the One who has held the world in His hands for thousands of years– hold our own lives?

Our God gives us good gifts.

I don’t want to ever be comfortable. I want my life to be one uncomfortable leap to the next, with open hands and open heart to wherever He may lead me. But I can say that, and I can write about demolition days and Rwandan rain, but what am I truly living out when I’m nowhere near comfortable?

What’s a heart to do when–as difficult as it may be– it desires to remain out of its comfort zone?

The answer is right there in a song in a small Rwandan church. It’s declared by a chorus of voices who don’t have much of the ‘comfort’ the materialistic Western world would say is necessary.

The answer is in their sermons. It’s in their prayers. And it’s in a crucifixion and a resurrection that took place so many years ago.

Our God gives us good gifts.

I choose to keep counting. Keep counting the gifts because a heart bent low in praise cannot also stand with wobbling knees or a shaking fist. Grace is all around– in or out of our comfort zones– if we choose to see

…The bracelet slipped on my wrist by a small Rwandan preschooler.

…Monopoly games with MOC students and staff.

…Skype working long enough for me to see faces from the States.

….A message from Brittany; encouragement from the mzungu in the States to the mzungu in Rwanda.

Our God gives us good gifts.

In every season. In every shade.

More Video/Photos!

Hello friends!

Got a few more pictures for you– a look inside our town, the UN Refugee camp and all of our African tea parties!

(If the above video doesn’t work, try: http://youtu.be/ApGoUmNu53k)

Love and miss you all!


Demolition Days

On Wednesday morning, the entire MOC staff plus forty hired Rwandans came together to pour the second of three cement slabs for our new kitchen patio. By forming two human chains from the concrete mixer down to the construction site, we were able to pass down bucket after bucket of wet cement to complete the project in record time– three hours! As the sun rose over Musanze, you could hear the buzzing of machines and clinks of shovels, as well as the occasional “Komera! Komera!” (Be strong! Be strong!) from down the lines.

Once the last bucket was poured and the cement smoothed over, we washed all the buckets (with an ensuing water fight) and gathered as a group to celebrate our accomplishment. We applauded the fact that the project was one small step towards building a better Rwanda; that the cement we were laying would still be just as strong and in tact for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.

All of us joined dirty, sweaty hands and prayed– first in English and then translated into Kinyarwanda. All circled up and linked together, it didn’t matter which language you spoke or whether you were Rwandan or mzungu. We were simply a group of people who had completed a difficult task, worshiping the One whom we had come to serve.

Now, I’m no construction expert, but the kitchen patio looked just fine to me when I first got here. Sure, it was built out of uneven cobblestones, but it was walk-able. Little did I know that re-doing that entire deck would not only create a more multi-purpose space, but it would also become a unifying project for dozens of Americans and Rwandans alike.

Isn’t that exactly the way that God loves us? Just as we are, and yet too much to not let us stay that way?

Yes, sometimes His ways are not our ways, and we don’t understand and they’re difficult and stretching and out of our comfort zone, and our hearts ache like my arms hurt after passing buckets of cement for three hours straight. We think we’re just fine if we stay as rickety cobblestones because comfortable feels good and the thought of being wrecked and rebuilt seems like too much of an undertaking.

When we give an ear to the soreness, to the doubt and the fear and the unknown, we cheat ourselves out of seeing the bigger picture. When we listen to our own apprehensions, we miss out on the goodness of His hand and the true portion of our hearts.

We miss out on Love.

Because there is no fear in Love, and where Love is, plans are made perfect. People are made perfect.

I want to be smoothed out. I want my heart to be so radically ravaged that there’s no room left for rough edges and uneven pavement. I want God to keep sending bucket after bucket down the line, no matter how sore my arms get. Because if I’ve learned one thing throughout my life, and even more so throughout my time in Rwanda, it’s this:

Demolition days end in rejoicing when the rebuilding is done by the Refiner of our souls.  To be shaped and shifted and smoothed out by the true Carpenter is our crown of glory.

As I prepare for our third and last concrete pour tomorrow morning, I think it’s going to be easier to pull myself out of bed at 5:30 A.M., in anticipation of the celebration that is bound to commence– Rwandan and American alike– after the last bucket is poured and the last tool put away.

Oh, that we might have the same perspective in our daily lives, pressing on in hopeful expectation of the day when we will all join hands at the foot of the Throne and eternally sing…

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is filled with His glory.”

“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” -Psalms 27:4

The patio before!

Human chain for pour #2!

Passin’ buckets!

Can you spot the mzungu?

Looking good!

And we’re finished!

More Pictures!

Here’s a bunch of photos from the last week, including: my trip to Kigali, the child heads of households (girls who are the primary providers for their families) and the preschool down the street.

Love you all!


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