2020 – FOR THOSE WHO MISSED IT

2020 – FOR THOSE WHO MISSED IT

By Mike Burnard: Analytical strategist at dia-LOGOS

In Mark 13 Jesus provides a list of events that could well have been an overview of 2020: False prophets (5), wars and rumours of wars (7), civil wars and religious wars (8), earthquakes and famines (8), increase in persecution (9), and days of distress (19). 

Fast forward to 2020

For most people, 2020 will not be remembered for what happened, but for what did not happen.  For many, COVID-19 turned the past 12 months into a TOMB rather than a WOMB: with more dreams being buried than new initiatives being birthed.  Julie Hinds of the Detroit Free Press describes the year past as a “Black Mirror” episode where a genius hacker hits a global pause button, forcing everyone to stand on a treadmill that goes nowhere while creating the illusion of moving forward.

But the world did move forward, and you will be forgiven if you missed it.  While 2020 will go down in history as “THE YEAR OF THE VIRUS”, it has also seen a flurry of momentous events around the world that, each in its own right, would have defined the past year as significant – from a declaration of war between the biggest Christian nation or earth and the biggest Shia nation on earth, a critical assassination, major political upsets, an exponential growth in poverty and displaced people, a passenger plane being shot down, violent protests, disastrous bushfires, and deadly earthquakes.  And we were not even in February yet.

Here is a catch-up of some of the major news stories of 2020, the context of where it happened, and why it was spiritually significant:

(Please note, there were other significant news stories as well and there are other legitimate perspectives also – This article provides a perspective, not the only perspective on some of the news stories and not all of the news stories.)

  1. January 3: IRAQ – Qasem Soleimani is assassinated
  2. January 5: IRAN – The red flag is hoisted in the Iranian holy city of Qom.
  3. January 7: AUSTRALIA – The bush fires in Australia reaches a peak.
  4. January 8: IRAN – Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 is shot down.
  5. January 10: SYRIA – Russia and China veto a UN resolution to help civilians in northern Syria.  
  6. January 12: IRAN – Mass anti-government protests hit the streets of Iran.
  7. January 24: TURKEY – Earthquake hits Elazığ , killing 41 people and injuring more than 1,600
  8. January 31: UK – Brexit becomes official
  9. February 23 INDIA – Religious violence as angry mobs attack Muslim homes and businesses.
  10. March 11: GLOBAL – WHO declares COVID-19 a GLOBAL PANDEMIC.
  11. May 5: CHINA/ INDIA – China/ India skirmishes and an ongoing military standoff
  12. May 22: HONG KONG – China announced a controversial security law.
  13. May 25: USA – George Floyd is killed by a police officer in Minneapolis
  14. June 10: NIGERIA – at least 81 people died after a Boko Haram attack in northeast Nigeria.
  15. July 28: SOUTH AFRICA – Three members of the same family are killed in a farm attack
  16. August 4: LEBANON – Explosion in Beirut
  17. September 15: ISRAEL – Israel signs pacts with UAE and Bahrain at the White House
  18. September 27: AZERBAIJAN – Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan turned violent.
  19. November 3: USA – Elections in the USA
  20. November 27: IRAN – Iran vows retaliation after top nuclear scientist is shot dead near Tehran

 

  1. January 3 – IRAQ:

EVENT

The year literally started with a “bang” as Major General Qasem Soleimani,  head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, an elite unit that handles Iran’s overseas operations, was assassinated by US Military forces during a drone airstrike in Iraq.  Tensions between the US and Iran increased significantly after the assassination and the US sent nearly 3,000 additional troops to the Middle East as a precaution.  After a period of mourning, Iran launched missiles at bases in Iraq housing the US military on 8 January, but no-one was killed in the strikes.  The Ayatollah Khamenei, Supreme leader of Shia Muslims globally, promised revenge.

CONTEXT

Even though Iran is only the 7th biggest Muslim nation in the world with a population of 85 million people, it is by far home to the largest Shia Muslim community on earth. 

Soleimani rose to prominence to become an indispensable figure in Iran, playing an instrumental role in spreading its influence in the Middle East.  He was generally regarded as the second most influential Shia Muslim on the planet after the Ayatollah but some argued that, as head of the armed forces, he had more power than the Supreme leader

SIGNIFICANCE

The philosophy of revenge is an integral part of the Islamic faith.  This was expressed in the Arab ideology of Muruwah that not only meant manliness, pride, and courage but endurance in suffering, avenging each and every injustice and unflinchingly defying stronger enemies regardless of the consequences. This well-established tribal code will therefore ensure that the unjust assassination of Major General Soleimani will be avenged at some future date.

Regardless of power and position, no one will ever be absolutely safe from a revenge attack.  Sadly, the most vulnerable will suffer first and the minority Christian population in the Middle East are bracing themselves to be the victims of these attacks.

 

  1. January 5 – IRAN

EVENT

A blood-red flag, symbolizing the call to avenge the death of a martyr, has been hoisted atop the Jamkaran Mosque in the Iranian holy city of Qom. The rare sight comes as people mourn General Qassem Soleimani and other officials killed by the US.  The hoisting ceremony was aired by Iranian state TV. The blood-red flag, as well as a picture of the slain commander of the elite Quds Force, were carried to the roof of one of the biggest and most important mosques for Shia Muslims. (RT)

CONTEXT

The flag used in the ceremony is called the ‘Ya la-Tharat al-Husayn’, which dates back to the late 7th century. It was first raised after the Battle of Karbala in a call to avenge the death of Imam Husayn ibn Ali, which became one of the key events that led to the split between Shia and Sunni Islam. The hoisting of the red flag represents two key components in the honour of the slain General – Firstly, a martyr has been killed and, secondly, his death needs to be avenged

It has been reported that the red flag has never been unfurled atop the Jamkaran (a major holy site since the early Middle Ages) until now.  Red flags were also spotted during other events held across the country in honour of the slain general.

SIGNIFICANCE

In times of darkness, the Church has an opportunity to shine the light of Christ.  In times of conflict and calls to war, the Church has the opportunity to introduce people to the Prince of Peace.  These are Kairos moments in the nation of Iran.

Persecution.com reports that, despite the risk of death for conversion, Christianity is reportedly the fastest-growing religion in Iran with an average annual growth rate of 5.2%.  A 2015 study estimates that there are between 100,000 and 500,000 Protestant Christian believers from a Muslim background living in Iran, most of them evangelical Christians.  Moreover, Christianity is increasing at a faster rate in Iran than in any other country.  One ministry operating within Iran, Iran Alive, suggests that the growth is a by-product of the despair and hopelessness experienced under the harsh Islamic system.

 

  1. January 7 – AUSTRALIA

EVENT

The bush fires in Australia reaches a peak as air quality drops to hazardous levels in all southern and eastern states. As of 7 January 2020, NASA estimated that 306 million tonnes (337 million short tons) of CO2 had been emitted from the bush fires in Australia.  By 7 January 2020, the smoke had moved approximately 11,000 kilometres (6,800 mi) across the South Pacific Ocean to Chile and Argentina. 

CONTEXT

The Australian fires burnt an estimated 186,000 square kilometres; destroyed over 5,900 buildings (including 2,779 homes) and killed at least 34 people. Nearly three billion terrestrial vertebrates alone – the vast majority being reptiles – were affected and some endangered species were believed to be driven to extinction.  Economists estimated that the Australian bushfires may cost over A$103 billion in property damage and economic losses, making the bushfires Australia’s costliest natural disaster to date. Nearly 80 percent of Australians were affected either directly or indirectly by the bushfires. 

SIGNIFICANCE

Aside from the deep anguish for the lives lost, extensive damage to property, and the concern about the ecological and financial impact of the fires, there is also the spiritual significance to consider. 

Christianity in Australia has dropped from 96.1% a century ago to 52.1% in the 2016 census, with only 9% actively practising their faith.  For all practical purposes Australia is no longer a Christian nation but has become secular in its approach.  Disasters, as tragic as they are, are always Kairos opportunities for people to seek refuge in a higher power.   Churches in Australia reported a growth in attendance and a renewed interest in faith

 

  1. January 8 – IRAN

EVENT

On January 8, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed in Iran, killing all 176 people on board. The majority of passengers were Iranian and Canadian. A spokesperson for the aircraft said it was checked two days prior with no issues. On January 11, it was revealed that the crash was due to missiles launched by Iran, though those missiles were not purposely sent on the plane. (CNN)

CONTEXT

The  context of the tragedy, as events unfolded in the ensuing months, proved to be a massive embarrassment for Iran.  And in a culture that is shaped by honour and shame, the downing of the plane shifted the mood in Iran from anger over the assassination of General Soleimani to shame and dishonour of the military incompetence. 

On 11 June, Iran announced that the flight recorders would be sent directly to the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses pour la Sécurité de l’Aviation Civile (BEA) in France. 

On 20 July, the examination of the recorders started in Paris and rejected the finding that “human error” caused the launch of the missiles which destroyed the aircraft.  The report stated that: “It cannot just be the result of a human error. There is no circumstance under (which) a civilian aircraft can be downed just by the result of human error in this day and age… All the facts and circumstances point to more than just a human error, so certainly we will continue to pursue vigorously the investigation.”

SIGNIFICANCE

Up to this point there were many local and international leaders who condemned the assassination of General Soleimani.  The downing of the plane however turned the tide from sympathy to suspicion and anger, and Iranian leadership lost a key bargaining tool in their nuclear discussions with the Western world.

For many young people in Iran this was a tipping point which resulted in major protests 4 days later.

 

  1. January 10 – SYRIA

EVENT

Russia and China use their veto power to stop the renewal of a UN resolution which will leave millions of civilians in northern Syria cut off from lifesaving aid.  The failure to renew the mechanism established by UN Resolution 2165 in 2014, which had enabled UN humanitarian agencies to deliver aid across the Turkish border to areas of northern Syria, could lead to starvation and hunger, the UN reported

CONTEXT

The Syrian refugee crisis is the largest refugee and displacement crisis of our time, affecting about 17.6 million people and spilling into surrounding countries.  There are about 5.6 million Syrian refugees, and another 6.2 million people are displaced within Syria. Nearly 12 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance. At least half of the people affected by the Syrian refugee crisis are children.  This additional crisis would add another estimated 2.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance

SIGNIFICANCE

Displaced people (both internally as well as refugees) have always been a key component in God’s redemption plans.  The early church grew as a result of Christians being persecuted and displaced – scattered like seed (Acts 8).  Today we find a major move of God amongst Syrian refugees.  But the joy of seeing souls saved should never result in an ignorance for their physical needs.  The nearly 3 million people that were displaced in Northern Syria in a matter of three months should fill believers with anguish and thrust the global body of Christ into action

 

  1. January 12 – IRAN

EVENT

On January 12, mass anti-government protests hit the streets of Iran. The protests are in response to the downed plane that was later revealed to have been accidentally shot down by Iranian officials. Demonstrators are calling for the Supreme Leader to step down. (CNN)

CONTEXT

The protests are a tangible expressions of a young generation discontent with their Islamic leaders and Islam as a whole.   30% of Iran’s population is younger than 20 years and 66% is 39 or younger. 

For demonstrators to call on the Supreme Leader to step down is equal to the Catholic community gathering in Rome calling the Pope to step down – with the added complication that the Supreme Leader is not only a spiritual leader but the most powerful person in government.  He is not elected or appointed but ordained by God. 

This is profoundly significant from a spiritual perspective

SIGNIFICANCE

The discontent by the Iranian youth with their spiritual leaders is simply a reflection of a deeper discontent with Islam.   In June 2020, the Research Institute for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in IRAN (GAMAAN), conducted an online survey with the collaboration of Ladan Boroumand, co-founder of the Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran.  The results verify Iranian society’s unprecedented secularisation.

The research involved almost 40,000 Iranians living in Iran and revealed dramatic changes in Iranian religiosity, with an increase in secularisation and a diversity of faiths and beliefs. Compared with Iran’s 99.5% census figure, they found that only 40% identified themselves as Muslim.  In contrast with state propaganda that portrays Iran as a Shia nation, only 32% explicitly identified as such, while 5% said they were Sunni Muslim and 3% Sufi Muslim. Another 9% said they were atheists, along with 7% who prefer the label of spirituality. Among the other selected religions, 8% said they were Zoroastrians, while 1.5% said they were Christian.

Yet 47% reported losing their religion in their lifetime, and 6% said they changed from one religious orientation to another. Younger people reported higher levels of irreligiosity and conversion to Christianity than older respondents.

For a full report visit:  https://theconversation.com/irans-secular-shift-new-survey-reveals-huge-changes-in-religious-beliefs-145253

 

  1. January 24 – TURKEY

EVENT

An earthquake occurred at 20:55 local time close to the town of Sivrice in Elazığ Province, Turkey. The magnitude of the earthquake was determined to be 6.7 Mw. The earthquake was felt in the neighbouring countries of Armenia, Syria, and Iran.  A total of 41 people were killed and more than 1,600 were injured.

CONTEXT

Islam is the largest religion in Turkey, with 99.8% of the population being initially registered by the state as Muslim – for anyone whose parents are not of any other officially recognised religion – and the remaining 0.2% are Christians or adherents of other officially recognised religions.  Due to the nature of this method, the official number of Muslims include people with no religion; converted people and anyone who is of a different religion from their Muslim parents, but has not applied for a change of their individual records. 

Research by WIN-Gallup International showed that 21% of Turks saw themselves as non- religious or convinced atheists.  https://www.gallup-international.bg/en/33531/losing-our-religion-two-thirds-of-people-still-claim-to-be-religious/

SIGNIFICANCE

In the domestic debate, the input of the country’s Christians has barely featured.  Christians have no voice and little presence.  Today, there are believed to be just around 100,000 Christians left in the country of 82 million, among them Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Syriac Christians, as well as Catholic and Protestant communities.

The significance therefore of any natural disaster, especially in a nation where Christians form a minority but are surrounded by the majority who question their own faith, is that it creates Kairos opportunities to reach out to those in need.  Christians may be limited in their daily public engagement but in a time of need God allows hearts to open and their engagement will change lives.

 

  1. January 31 – UK

EVENT

Brexit becomes official and the UK begins the process of formally withdrawing from the European Union.

CONTEXT

Information without context is dangerous, and simply implying that the majority of Brits wanted to leave the EU might be true but it is not the full truth.  The context of the referendum provides some answers:

During the EU referendum vote, about 70% of the electorate voted, splitting roughly 52/48 between Leave and Remain. There were some 13 million registered voters who did not vote and about 7 million people eligible to vote who were not registered. Leave votes were higher within older age groups, and generally those with less formal education, lower social groups, the retired and unemployed. 

Were voters divided in terms of “nationalism”? To quote from the summary of the exit poll of some 12,000 voters conducted by Lord Ashcroft’s polling organisation (http://www.conservativehome.com/platform/2016/06/lord-ashcroft-how-the-united-kingdom-voted-on-thursday-and-why.html): 

White voters voted to leave the EU by 53% to 47%. Two thirds (67%) of those describing themselves as Asian voted to remain, as did three quarters (73%) of black voters. Nearly six in ten (58%) of those describing themselves as Christian voted to leave; seven in ten Muslims voted to remain. In England, leave voters (39%) were more than twice as likely as remain voters (18%) to describe themselves either as “English not British” or “more English than British”. Remain voters were twice as likely as leavers to see themselves as more British than English. Two thirds of those who considered themselves more English than British voted to leave; two thirds of those who considered themselves more British than English voted to remain.  Nearly three quarters (73%) of remainers think life in Britain is better today than it was 30 years ago; a majority (58%) of those who voted to leave say it is worse.

The conclusion: The sentiments of a typical Leave voter can be characterised as ethnic. English identity is not about citizenship but linked to common language and heritage and hostility to immigration.

SIGNIFICANCE

There are many arguments for and against Brexit but only time will fully reveal the economic and geo-political consequences of this divorce with the EU.  However, from a spiritual perspective, the significance of Brexit is that it revealed both a pursuit of nationalism combined with a philosophy of secularism.  Nationalism, as defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary is a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.  This is different from patriotism, the idea that you should be loyal to your country including being involved in activities to correct its faults.  Secularism is a philosophy that relies on evidence and logic rather than faith and belief to determine one’s course of action.

It is a significant trend that the more secular a nation becomes, the more nationalist it grows – and vice versa.  This trend is not only visible in the UK but across political borders in Europe and also in the USA.  The connection between secularism and nationalism also spans religious borders like Turkey and Iran.  Brexit, to a large extent, was promoted and accepted within the parameters of nationalism.  What is most concerning is the fact that Christians voted to leave, losing a Kairos opportunity to reflect the global faith that Christ called its followers to witness to.

 

  1. February 23 – INDIA

EVENT

February 23 started the religious-fuelled violence in Delhi. Angry mobs attacked Muslim homes and businesses. By 26 February 23 people have died during these riots, making it the most violent in the past decade. (BBC)

CONTEXT

India is home to nearly 90% of all Hindus in the world, the 3rd biggest Muslim country in the world, and also the 10th biggest Christian nation in the world.  It is as diverse as it is fanatical.  India boasts to be the largest democracy in the world and yet Hindu nationalism results in some of the worst cultural persecution globally. 

SIGNIFICANCE

India is a country of more than 1.2 billion people, with Christians accounting for only some three percent of the population. With the ascension to power of the Hindu nationalist BJP party, there has been a rising tide of violent attacks on Christians as well as Muslims. The persecution of minorities in India is like a two-edged sword for the Indian Church.  On the one hand, it suffers the same cultural discrimination that most non-Hindus and Dalits (the out-casts) experience but at the same time it results in solidarity which opens the doors to share the Gospel.  Because of this, and despite its relatively small size, the Indian Church has a disproportionate impact on Indian society through education and social services.

 

  1. March 11 – GLOBAL

EVENT

The day that changed the year.  Deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction, WHO made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a GLOBAL PANDEMIC.

CONTEXT

Here is a timeline of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • November 17:  a 55-year-old individual from Hubei province in China was the first person to have contracted a disease caused by the new coronavirus
  • December 15:  One month later and the total infections, still limited to China, now reaches 27.
  • December 27:  Dr. Zhang Jixian, head of the respiratory department at Hubei Provincial Hospital, reported to health officials in China that a novel coronavirus was causing the disease; by that day, it had infected more than 180 individuals.
  • January 4: WHO reported on social media that there was a cluster of pneumonia cases – with no deaths – in Wuhan, Hubei province.
  • January 13: Officials confirm a case of COVID-19 in Thailand, the first recorded case outside of China.
  • January 20: The first case of coronavirus is reported in the U.S., a 35-year-old Washington man who returned from China days earlier.
  • January 30: WHO declares the coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
  • February 1: The number of infections has now grown to 12,032
  • February 26: The CDC in the USA confirmed a case in California with no reported travel connection to China or exposure to another person with COVID-19. This marked the first possible instance of community spread—the spread of an illness with an unknown source of infection.
  • March 1: The number of infections has now grown to 91,015.  The world is starting to react.
  • March 11: Deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction, WHO made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a GLOBAL PANDEMIC.
  • March 13: There are now nearly 148,000 cases globally and more than 81,000 cases in mainland China, with cases on every continent except Antarctica.
  • April 1: The number of infections has now exceeded the 1 million mark and stands at 1,013,177
  • April 9: The number of COVID related deaths passes the hundred thousand mark with 103,112 that have died of the disease
  • May 1: The number of infections has now tripled over the past month and stands at 3,433,002
  • June 25: The number of COVID related deaths passes the half-million mark with 503,971 that have died of the disease
  • July 1: The number of infections has reached the ten million mark with 10,751,249 now being infected
  • September 25: The number of COVID related deaths passes the million mark for the first time with 1,002,082 that have died of the disease
  • November 7: The number of COVID related infections passes the 50 million mark with 50,278,895 that have now been infected.
  • December 7:  the numbers are as follows
  • Coronavirus infections: 67,4 million
  • Deaths: 1,54 million (3%)
  • Recovered: 46,6 million (97%)

The challenge of the pandemic, however, can only be discussed in the context of all the misinformation and conspiracy theories that accompany it.  In the internet era, everyone suddenly became an expert on COVID-19 and pundits cherry-picked the data that matched their beliefs and seemed to speak with authority.   This resulted in an unprecedented infodemic that travelled faster, broader, and deeper more than the accurate information provided by virologists and related experts.  

The power of conspiracy theories lies in the use of videos, pictures, text, and films to substantiate false claims. The challenge of a mysterious pandemic, amplified by an uncontrolled infodemic is that it negatively influences policy and public debate. In this regard, the infodemic about the COVID-19 has created a lot of fear and misconception that has affected policy formulation in regards to vaccination, mobility of people, and border closures. A lack of reliable information especially during crises like COVID-19 can cause more infections and deaths and unnecessary humanitarian catastrophe. The likely consequence of misinformation is complacency, which could fuel more premature deaths.

For an article in this regard visit:  https://dialogos.co.za/covid-19-not-as-deadly-as-the-flu/

SIGNIFICANCE

The significance from a Christian perspective is profound:

  • 500 million people were added to global poverty – 8% of the global population. This provides new opportunities for missionaries to engage and expand their footprints in caring for the poor, regardless of vision-statement and previous involvement. 
  • With Churches being closed and meetings coming to a complete halt, technology opened new doors for believers to meet across theological, national, and cultural borders.  
  • Travel came to a virtual standstill. This meant no short term outreaches, no training, no deliveries, and no meetings.  The UNREACHED suddenly became INACCESSIBLE. This places a new missions emphasis on developing local and indigenous leadership and equipping local believers.
  • FINANCIAL RESOURCES also decreased and unemployment increased. Self-supporting pastors are now dependant on support and this should become a priority for those who seek to invest in poorer communities. 

For more information on Missions in a Post-COVID world, read the following: https://dialogos.co.za/missions-in-a-post-covid-19-world/

 

  1. May 5 – CHINA/ INDIA

EVENT

Since 5 May 2020, Chinese and Indian troops have engaged in aggressive confrontations, face-offs, and skirmishes at locations along the Sino-Indian border, including near the disputed Pangong Lake in Ladakh and the Tibet Autonomous Region. (LAC).

On June 15, tensions between China and India rose again after violent clashes in the Himalayas. CNN reported that the clashes began after Indian troops tore down a Chinese tent built the night before. About 20 Indian soldiers have died in the clash. While there have been Chinese deaths as well, no figures have been released. Both countries have stated they plan to discuss the issues in a calm manner. (CNN)

CONTEXT

China and India are two nations of paramount importance.  It is the two most populous nations in the world with 1 out of every 3 people on earth living in one of these two countries. 

In 1998, according to the World Bank, India’s gross domestic product was $297 billion compared to China’s $312 billion, while India’s defence spending, at $10.6 billion, was also close to the Chinese allocation of $11.4 billion.

However, the material balance of power between China and India has dramatically changed since then. At $13.6 trillion in 2018, China’s GDP is now more than five times India’s $2.7 trillion. Similarly, China spent $261.1 billion on defence expenditure in 2019, almost four times India’s total of $71.1 billion. While India has risen as an economy and a global power in the past three decades, its relative strength to China has in fact greatly declined.

SIGNIFICANCE

A war between China and India will be catastrophic for world peace, and peace can no longer be taken for granted in this region.  Tensions between India and China are also not new. The two countries—which share the world’s longest unmarked border—fought a full-fledged war in 1962 and have since engaged in several small skirmishes. Not since 1975 has a bullet been fired across their shared border but since then both countries have developed and obtained nuclear weapons.

The events of 5 May suggest that escalations in conflict are highly possible. Both sides have substantial—and growing—military deployments along a mostly disputed border. And for more than a decade, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been testing India’s military readiness and political resolve along several strategic areas. For an extensive insight read:  https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/05/23/india-china-border-skirmishes/

 

  1. May 22 – HONG KONG

EVENT

On May 22, China announced a controversial security law that may affect Hong Kong as we know it. The law criminalizes “treason, secession, sedition (and) subversion” against the central government, which would bypass Hong Kong legislation. The law allows Chinese national security to be in Hong Kong. (CNN)

CONTEXT

With over 7.5 million people of various nationalities in a 1,104-square-kilometre (426 sq mi) territory, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world.  But, considering the prolonged protests and the prominence it received in the news headlines, it’s a fair question to ask: Is Hong Kong actually in China, or not?

The answer isn’t quite as simple as many commentators might like!  Hong Kong exists as a Special Administrative Region controlled by The People’s Republic of China and enjoys its own limited autonomy as defined by the Basic Law. The principle of “one country, two systems” allows for the coexistence of socialism and capitalism under “one country,” which is mainland China.

Hong Kong retains its own money, passport and immigration channels, and legal system, but the chain of command leads straight back to Beijing.   And this is what the protests were all about. Hong Kong’s legal system is completely distinct from Beijing. It remains based on British common law and is considered free and impartial. Mainland Chinese authorities have no right to arrest people in Hong Kong. Like other countries, they must apply for an international arrest warrant.   China’s attempt to tweak this—the doomed extradition law—was what sparked the protests that continue to this day.  For a more comprehensive insight visit:  https://www.tripsavvy.com/what-country-is-hong-kong-in-1535874

SIGNIFICANCE

Hong Kong is not the same fishing village it was decades ago and became a powerhouse, politically, economically, and spiritually.  Hong Kong is known in the economic world for “Leveraging the Mainland while Engaging the World” – acting as a storehouse in importing goods into the Mainland and exporting goods overseas. 

From a spiritual context, Hong Kong fulfills exactly the same role and maintains the same impact.  For decades Hong Kong was the ‘gateway’ to China.  Bibles would be ‘smuggled” into mainland China from Hong Kong and pastors would be trained in Hong Kong from China.  If Mainland China, with some of the severest restrictions on Christian activities today, succeeds in tweaking the extradition law, it could severely impact Christian activities in both nations

 

  1. May 25 – USA

EVENT

George Floyd is killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, sparking protests against police brutality and racial injustice. Violent protests, rioting and looting follow.  By June 6, as US protests entered their 12th consecutive day, various European countries and other nations participated in Black Lives Matter protests themselves.

CONTEXT

Sadly, the death of George Floyd was immediately hijacked by politicians, community leaders, the media, and racially motivated movements from both sides of the spectrum.  George Floyd became a symbol for those who wanted to push their own agendas and little thought was given to his family, who publicly distanced themselves from the protests.  Within days, and with the influence of movements like Black Lives Matter, protests spread across the USA and its borders. 

Signal AI (https://medium.com/@ben.moore_25775/media-bias-in-the-coverage-of-george-floyd-201795a0d5ea) , a company that examines media coverage of major events, found that in the two weeks that followed the death of George Floyd, the incident was named in nearly 2 million (1,880,507) news items.  For context, this is more news items than those mentioned Donald Trump (1,668,210) in the same period and roughly 20% the number of news items that mentioned coronavirus (8,802,632).  Of these, approximately half (54.7%) have linked his death to racism and/or police brutality.  Broadcast outlets were particularly divided across political lines and contributed extensively to the protests that followed.

SIGNIFICANCE

Signal AI concludes that the lack of diversity in the makeup of newsrooms doesn’t just lead to one-off examples of bad reporting, it shapes the language and the narrative portrayed by the media and thus, subtly moulds the people’s understandings of events around them. Discrepancies in language are felt unevenly across outlets, and in this way, across political lines. As such, emphasis on certain phrases and certain words raises the volume of the echo chambers people increasingly find themselves in. 

The significance of the death of George Floyd was therefore more evident in what it revealed than the event itself, as desperately tragic and as unnecessary as it was.  The way that different sectors of society reacted, including the Church and especially the media, confirmed how deeply divided we are in our pursuit for unity and reconciliation.  The Church cannot be found on the side-lines in matters of this importance but should also not be in a position compromising her role as peacemaker.  Peacemakers are seen as those who extend a hand of reconciliation to both sides and bringing people together in the name of Jesus

 

  1. June 10 – NIGERIA/ MOZAMBIQUE

EVENT

On June 10, at least 81 people died after a suspected Boko Haram attack in northeast Nigeria. The village was attacked by men in armoured tanks and trucks filled with guns. Along with the shooting, the militant group kidnapped 7 people from the village. (CNN)  Another attack took place on 28 November when at least 110 people have been brutally killed in an attack on a village in north-east Nigeria. (The Guardian)

On 9 November more than 50 people were beheaded in northern Mozambique by militant Islamists.  The militants turned a football pitch in a village into an “execution ground”, where they decapitated and chopped bodies, other reports said.  Several people were also beheaded in another village, state media reported.  The beheadings were the latest in a series of gruesome attacks that the militants have carried out in gas-rich Cabo Delgado province since 2017.

CONTEXT

Boko Haram, (which means “Westernization Is Sacrilege”) is an Islamic movement, founded in 2002 by Muhammed Yusuf in northeastern Nigeria.  Since 2009 it has carried out assassinations and large-scale acts of violence in that country. The group’s initial proclaimed intent was to uproot the corruption and injustice in Nigeria, which it blamed on Western influences, and to impose Sharia, or Islamic law. In 2015 the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and took the name Islamic State (or State’s) West African Province (ISWAP; also known as Islamic State in West Africa, or ISWA). The next year the group split, with one faction retaining that name and the other reverting back to the original appellation.

Nigeria’s Boko Haram movement, infamous for kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls at Chibok in 2014, carried out major attacks after declaring a jihad in 2010.  But today, as competition increase between rival jihadist groups, the threat of terrorism in the region is increasing.

SIGNIFICANCE

The significance of these attacks is to be found more in the trend than in a single event.  According to the Global Terrorism Index published on 25 November 2020, the “centre of gravity” for the Islamic State group IS has moved away from the Middle East to Africa, with total deaths by IS in sub-Saharan Africa up by 67% over last year.

“The expansion of ISIS affiliates into sub-Saharan Africa led to a surge in terrorism in many countries in the region,” reports the Global Terrorism Index.  “Seven of the 10 countries with the largest increase in terrorism were in sub-Saharan Africa: Burkina Faso, Mozambique, DRC, Mali, Niger, Cameroon and Ethiopia”.  The report points out that in 2019 “sub-Saharan Africa recorded the largest number of ISIS-related terrorism deaths at 982, or 41% of the total”.

 

  1. July 28 – SOUTH AFRICA

EVENT

Three members of the same family were kidnapped in a horrific attack on a farm in South Africa then driven out into the wilds in their own cars to be brutally slaughtered.   Daniel Brand, 82, his wife Hybrecht, 73, and their daughter Elizabeth, 53, went missing from their rural home near Hartswater in the Northern Province on Sunday night.  Elizabeth, known by her nickname Elzabie, had been visiting for Sunday lunch – but her body was found on Tuesday morning by a drone operator.   The bodies of her parents were found at around 5pm Tuesday. (Dailymail)

CONTEXT

According to recently released data, farm attacks in South Africa have shot-up in the first six months of 2020. Police statistics indicate that, despite a national lockdown, criminals have taken the pandemic chaos as an opportunity.

SAPS statistics indicate that a total of 128 farm attacks have been reported in the first six months of 2020. This time last year, the number was just 13 – meaning that rural crimes have surged ten-fold.  During September 2020 there were another 48 farm attacks and 5 farm murders in the country and one attack was successfully averted. During October 2020 there have been 42 farm attacks and 7 farm murders whilst 5 farm attacks were successfully averted.

SIGNIFICANCE

Sadly, anguish can turn into anger very quickly if not addressed appropriately, and the politics of fear in South Africa presents a dangerous platform for more violence.  There is a sense that justice will only be served once the perpetrators are dealt with legally, and if not legally, privately.  Farm murders, as an emotional flint in an explosive community, have the potential to destroy communities and relationships.  But it also presents the opportunity to unite enemies if approached from a Christ perspective. 

Christians are not people who passively accept ridicule, persecution, and affliction. They retaliate! But they do not retaliate with the weapons or the attitudes of the world. Followers of Christ need to be taught that it is okay to take revenge, but that they need to use the fruits of the Spirit to do so. If someone hurts us (consider the supreme example set by Christ on the cross), we take revenge by offering forgiveness. If someone threatens our safety and security, we take revenge by praying for them. Two things will happen:  “In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.” (Proverbs 25:22)

https://thethirdway.org/farm-murders-taking-revenge-like-jesus-did/

 

  1. August 4 – LEBANON

EVENT

On 4 August 2020, a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the port of the city of Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, exploded, causing at least 204 deaths, 6,500 injuries, and US$15 billion in property damage, and leaving an estimated 300,000 people homeless.

CONTEXT

Lebanon remains one of the most strategic nations in the Middle East for the following reasons:

Lebanon is home to the highest percentage of Christians in any country in the Arab World (including Israel). More than 33% of Lebanon profess to be Christian.  The 61% Muslim population is equally divided between Sunni (30.6%) and Shia (30.5%).   Maronite and Catholics are the largest Christian groups.  Druze’s constitute 5.2% of the population.

It is also the only country in the world with a Muslim majority population that has a Christian president and a governance that is dictated by a power-sharing deal between the main sects. In line with the “national pact” dating from independence from France in 1943, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the parliament speaker a Shiite Muslim.  Lebanon is a parliamentary republic, with a 128-member house evenly split between Muslims and Christians.

SIGNIFICANCE

The fact that Christianity has such a prominent and visible presence in Lebanon has provided a platform for the Gospel to advance in every sector of society: economical, religious, political, social, media, and educational. Lebanon has provided a gateway for the Gospel to be proclaimed to neighbouring countries like Syria, Iraq, and the Kurdish community in Turkey.  Thousands of refugees found Christ in Lebanon. The explosion and subsequent challenges will provide new opportunities for the Church to reflect the tangible love of Christ.  In the same way that it took one spark to ignite the ammonium and destroy the lives of thousands, it can take one spark of goodwill to ignite hope and encouragement. 

Visit: https://thethirdway.org/window-of-hope-making-a-difference-in-beirut/  

 

  1. September 15 – ISRAEL

EVENT

In the first of three historical meetings where Israel signed peace treaties with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain at the White House, with President Donald Trump calling the moment the “dawn of a new Middle East.”  Details about the treaties have yet to be disclosed, but they broadly normalize relations between the two Arab countries and Israel, including the opening of embassies in each of the nations for the first time.  The UAE and Bahrain join Egypt and Jordan as the only Arab countries to have peace treaties with Israel.

In the second historical meeting, on October 23, President Trump announced that Sudan and Israel have also agreed to normalize relations. The agreement is designed to end the turbulent relations between the two countries. The two nations agreed to meet soon to discuss cooperation in the areas previously discussed.

On November 23 in a further historic event, Benjamin Netanyahu made an unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia to meet the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.  The visit marked the first reported meeting between leaders of the long-time foes, one that Israel has been pushing for in its efforts for regional acceptance despite previously being considered a far-fetched ambition.

 CONTEXT

To provide a comprehensive Biblical, prophetic, political, and religious perspective of Israel within a Middle Eastern context would require an encyclopedia at the least.  As a summary the following:

From a Biblical context: Israel is a name used 2,431 times in the Bible. The primary thread throughout the Bible is the redemption of humanity, and Israel is at the center of that story. Israel is the Hebrew name Yisra’el, meaning God contends, or one who struggles with God. Those identified with that name are God’s people, chosen for a purpose. And that is what Israel ultimately means: God’s people for God’s purpose

From a prophetic context: The Bible is overflowing with prophecies, the vast majority of them revolving around Israel and her people.  These prophecies have been the source of fascination across the world for generations especially as some of those prophecies have already been fulfilled. 

One prophecy that has dominated Christian circles in recent years is that believers are to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. Psalm 122:6) as this will, in effect, ultimately paving the way for the return of Christ (which is when Jerusalem shall know peace). 

From a political context Israel is as diverse as it is unique and is either passionately loved or passionately hated.  Israel has diplomatic relations with 162 of the other 192 UN member states as of October 2020. Israel maintains full diplomatic relations with two of its Arab neighbours, Egypt and Jordan, after signing peace treaties in 1979 and 1994 respectively.  Thirty-one UN member states do not have relations with Israel including 17 of the 21 UN members in the Arab League and 10 members of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.  The close friendship with the United States has also been a cornerstone of Israeli foreign policy for decades.

Relations between Israel and Iran have alternated from close political alliances between the two states during the era of the Pahlavi dynasty to hostility following the rise to power of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The post-1979 Iranian authorities avoid referring to Israel by its name, and instead use the terms “the Zionist regime” or “occupied Palestine”. Iranian passports bear an inscription that says, “The bearer of this passport is forbidden from traveling to occupied Palestine.”  (Wikipedia)

From a religious context:  Here are some interesting facts about Christianity in Israel by Tovah Lazaroff from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics and the Foreign Ministry website. (https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Ten-things-to-know-about-Christians-in-Israel-575354)

  • Christians in the Holy Land are a very small minority group of 175,000 comprising 2 percent of the population.
  • Most Holy Land Christians, 77%, are Arab. In 2017, 597 Falash Mura Christians immigrated from Ethiopia to Israel, juicing up the population numbers of 2.2 percent.
  • Some 71% of Christians live in northern Israel. The latest number of Christian Arab communities, (22,100) is in Nazareth. The second largest is in Haifa, with some 15,00 people and the third, with 12,800 people, is in Jerusalem.
  • Christian women are more educated than their peers, with 75.2% studying toward a second degree, compared to 62.7% of all females studying toward a second degree.
  • Israeli Christian communities belong primarily to four denominations; Chalcedonian-Orthodox, Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Latin and Uniate) and Protestant.
  • Most significant Christian site is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, placed at the site of Jesus’ crucifixion in the fourth century. Some 90% of all Christian tourists visit this site.

SIGNIFICANCE

The significance of these peace treaties will be manyfold – from energy, oil, technology, security, and probably any field that one can think of.  The region will benefit as Israel has lots to offer, primarily in the areas of agriculture and science.  However, for Turkey, it is a nightmare scenario. Both the UAE and Israel have lined up on the side of General Haftar in the Libyan conflict and against the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). Turkey’s meddling in Libya is all about ensuring that it doesn’t get shut out from the oil and gas in the Mediterranean Sea.   OILPRICE.com has noted repeatedly that the Mediterranean is the next major oil and gas conflict zone, and a peace treaty between the UAE and Israel – unthinkable prior to Israel’s emergence as an energy power – all but guarantees that. 

Not underestimating all these factors, the bottom line of these treaties is that it proves that the belief that, without a treaty with the Palestinians, no Arab nation would make peace with Israel, was wrong.  The Biblical call to pray for the peace of Jerusalem is a call that needs to impact the region and not just the nation.  The fact that former enemies are now seeking peace with Israel is as dramatic as it is historical. 

 

  1. September 27 – AZERBAIJAN/ ARMENIA

EVENT

Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan turned violent after clashes over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The region is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, but is owned by ethnic Armenians. Both sides have claimed to have the upper hand in this battle. So far, 31 soldier deaths have been reported and 26 civilian injuries. (BBC)

CONTEXT

The renewed hostilities in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone is the latest flare-up in a conflict that has been ongoing for over thirty years. In the early 1990s, the conflict in Nagorno Karabakh led to the displacement of 492, 000 individuals, including 420,000 refugees (360,000 out of whom fled from Azerbaijan) as well as 72,000 internally displaced persons. Since 1994, a truce has been agreed between the parties – nevertheless, there have been outbursts of violence, including fierce clashes in 2016 and a previous flare-up in July 2020.

SIGNIFICANCE

No two neighbouring nations are religiously as diverse as Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Armenia is a Christian nation with 94.4% adhering to the Christian faith and only 1.8% are Muslim.  Azerbaijan is exactly the opposite with 88% being Muslim and only 2.7% Christian.  These opposing religions, and ultimately world-views, could ultimately result in more than just a geo-political conflict.  The danger is that, just like the war in Syria, the conflict can develop into a religious war as well as a proxy war.  International role players like Russia (siding with Armenia) and Turkey (siding with Azerbaijan) have already expressed their willingness to get involved.  France, whose population includes between 400,000 to 600,000 people of Armenian origin, also wanted in on the deal because of concerns that Russia and Turkey may cut Western powers out of future peace talks.

The world can ill afford another war that will result in millions of refugees being added to the already 75 million displaced people globally.

 

  1. November 3 – USA

EVENT

The 2020 United States presidential election was the 59th quadrennial presidential election, held on Tuesday, November 3, 2020. The Democratic nominee of former vice president Joe Biden and incumbent U.S. senator from California Kamala Harris defeated the Republican candidate of incumbent President Donald Trump and vice president Mike Pence.   The votes of the Electoral College for president and vice president are scheduled to be formally cast by the presidential electors on December 14, 2020, and officially counted by Congress on January 6, 2021.

CONTEXT

The election saw the highest voter turnout since 1900, with each of the two main candidates receiving more than 74 million votes, surpassing Barack Obama’s record of 69.5 million votes from 2008. Biden and Harris received more than 81 million votes, the most votes ever cast for a candidate in a U.S. presidential election. 

From a Christian perspective America is one of the most important nations in the world for the following reasons:

  • America is the biggest Christian Nation in the world and also sends the most missionaries cross-culturally – 127,000 missionaries – as many as the next top 6 sending nations combined and 5 times more than the whole continent of Africa
  • Americans are also the most charitable people on earth, giving over $410 billion for charity annually – 2.1% of the nation’s gross domestic product.

The reality is that whatever happens in America politically has a profound impact across the globe spiritually.

SIGNIFICANCE

Not underestimating the significance of the elections from a domestic, American, perspective, it is important to also evaluate the international significance of the elections.  BBC reported how Mr Biden’s victory could mean for key US relationships.  For the full report visit:  https://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2020-54801409

CHINA: Some analysts have suggested that the Chinese leadership may be feeling secretly disappointed. Not because they have any lasting fondness for Mr Trump, but because they see Mr.Trump as an isolationist abroad and it seemed to Beijing the very embodiment of the long-anticipated and hoped-for decline in US power.

INDIA: South Asia’s most populous nation will remain a key ally in America’s Indo-Pacific strategy to curtail the rise of China, and in fighting global terrorism.  That said, the personal chemistry between Mr Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could be trickier to navigate. Mr Trump has held back from criticising Mr Modi’s controversial domestic policies. Mr Biden has been far more outspoken. Incoming Vice-President Kamala Harris – half Indian herself – has also spoken out against some of the Hindu nationalist government’s policies.

NORTH KOREA: It’s likely Chairman Kim would have preferred another four years of Donald Trump.  The leaders’ unprecedented meeting and follow-ups made for incredible photo-ops for the history books but very little of substance was signed.

In contrast, Joe Biden has demanded North Korea show that it is willing to abandon its nuclear weapons programme before he holds any meetings with Kim Jong-un.

UK: In looking at how their future relationship might work, it’s worth considering the past. Specifically that seminal year, 2016, when Donald Trump won the White House and the UK voted to leave the EU. Both Joe Biden and Barack Obama, made no secret they preferred another outcome on Brexit.  However, the two men may yet find some common ground. The two countries they lead, after all, have long-standing and deep-running diplomatic ties – not least in the areas of security and intelligence.

RUSSIA: The Kremlin has an acute sense of hearing. So when Joe Biden recently named Russia as “the biggest threat” to America, they heard that loud and clear in Moscow.  The Kremlin also has a long memory. In 2011 Vice-President Biden reportedly said that if he were Mr Putin, he wouldn’t run again for president: it would be bad for the country and for himself. President Putin won’t have forgotten that.  Mr Biden and Mr Putin are not a match made in geo-political heaven. Moscow fears the Biden presidency will mean more pressure and more sanctions from Washington.

IRAN: Under President Trump, US sanctions and a policy of maximum pressure have left Iran reeling on the edge of economic collapse. Mr Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal. He also ordered the killing of General Qasem Soleimani, a close friend of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Taking revenge for his killing remains near the top of the agenda for hardliners.  The election of Joe Biden makes entering negotiations with a US administration far easier for Iran. President-Elect Biden does not have the same baggage. He has said he wants to use diplomacy and return to the nuclear deal with Iran. 

ISRAEL: President-elect Biden will try to rewire US Middle East policy back to the way he left it as Vice-President under Barack Obama: Easing Mr Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran and aiming to re-join the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by the White House two years ago.  That prospect horrifies Israel and Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. One Israeli minister said in response to Mr Biden’s likely win that the policy would end with “a violent Israeli-Iranian confrontation, because we will be forced to act”.

This drive to regional “normalisation” is likely to continue under Mr Biden, but he may try to slow controversial US weapons sales to the Gulf and would likely seek more Israeli concessions. Annexation now seems definitively off the table and Mr Biden will also object to further Israeli settlement building.

 

  1. November 27 – IRAN

EVENT

The first 11 months of 2020 ended exactly the same way that it started – with the assassination of an Iranian leader.  Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s chief nuclear scientist, was assassinated east of Tehran.  Fakhrizadeh was shot by a remote-controlled machine gun operating out of another car.  With top Iranian officials blaming Israel, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei and others have promised revenge for the killing of Fakhrizadeh

CONTEXT

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was regarded as the “father of Iran’s weapons program”.  Fakhrizadeh was a mysterious figure, unknown to most people outside of Iran, shrouded in secrecy and kept hidden by the Iranian government in recent years.  Few people outside Iran are believed to ever have seen him or to even know what he looks like.  That makes this hit — widely believed to be carried out by Mossad agents — all the more impressive.

Western intelligence officials consider Fakhrizadeh the mastermind behind Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies said that Fakhrizadeh was “covertly” present at the first nuclear test under Kim Jong-un in North Korea in 2013 with “a delegation of Iranian nuclear experts.”  Fakhrizadeh has been called the J. Robert Oppenheimer of Iran after the American physicist who oversaw the creation of the atomic bomb.

SIGNIFICANCE

The attack was extremely significant from a Military perspective which witnessed the first recorded high-profile assassination where the victim was shot from a remote location using face-recognition.  The weapons used were equipped with a smart satellite system that zoomed into the victims face to identify him.  It was being “controlled online” and “zoomed in” on his face “using Artificial Intelligence”, according to Mehr news agency, which quotes Commodore Ali Fadavi, deputy commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. 

The technology is so advanced that his wife, despite being only 25 centimeters (10 inches) away, was not shot,” the news agency reported.  This new-found technology could be a tipping-point in global warfare

 

2021

2021 will reveal to what extent the peace treaties with some Arab nations and the declaration of war with Iran will impact the Middle East.  There is no doubt that the Powerhouse of Islam is shifting from Saudi Arabia to Iran and key role players like Turkey are also entering the frame.  The Middle East remain as volatile as ever but, now, with Islam losing ground in the Middle East and Islamists gaining ground in Africa, the spiritual world will face challenges unprecedented in modern history. 

However, there is one thing that we can take with us into the new year.  Whatever we face or encounter, whether it’s a pandemic or war, famine or fire – nothing can, and will, separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38).  He will be with us always, till the end (Matthew 28:20).  So, whether we face the destruction of war, the death of famine, the devastation of earthquakes, the dangers of terrorism, or the perils of pandemics, remember, we are God’s light, created for darkness.  For this reason, and for this season, therefore, let Him who shines through us, shine bright before others, so that they may see our good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  (Matthew 5:16)

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