2017: An Overview

Japanese Sign Language Bible

Thank you to the many who cared enough to pray or give or help out. Because you did, the Japanese Sign Language Bible translation project continued rolling out the changes that started last year. Uiko did a fantastic job leading the team in another year of change and innovation. This year, they recorded *1,261 verses—more than ever before.

But Uiko was also doing something else. In order to keep signing-related repetitive stress injuries to a minimum, she had Terasawa take on other responsibilities besides just translation. He took the lead, and the whole team pitched in to produce “movie spoof” themed Scripture engagement videos. The result? The project’s Facebook site passing up the 1,000 “likes” mark this year. Videos regularly had a reach of multiple thousands, with our top number being 12,442. Since the Deaf Christian population is somewhere between 2-4,000, it’s clear that we’re going beyond the walls of the church and reaching into the larger Deaf community.

Terasawa has also proven very helpful in providing a wide pool of friends and acquaintances that are willing to help with comprehension checks. One of them, a well-known Deaf theater figure, after only one viewing re-told the whole prodigal son story, with embellishments, and only one small detail left out. Terasawa and Mark both had goosebumps watching. They were sure he must have heard the story somewhere before, but he said “no, this is what I do. I’m an actor; I remember lines.” (Of course, it also means that the translation was crystal clear—he wouldn’t remember if he didn’t understand.)  After the comprehension checking was done, he bought a complete set of DVDs to take home with him.

So . . . join us in celebrating a year of major victories. And do pray, because more change is coming. Terasawa gave notice and moved on at the end of December. We are very sad to see him go, but wish him well in his new position. Pray for Uiko as she interviews new people. Pray that we’ll find the right combination, train them well, and keep our momentum.

* June: Lev. 15-27, 412 verses recorded
July: Luke 7-15, 425 verses recorded
Nov: Luke 16-24, 424 verses recorded
1,261 total published this year

Thai Sign Language Bible

The Thailand team finished the Gospel of Mark in the first half of the year, and is now working on Jonah, Ruth, and the first few chapters of Acts. They went through some changes too, with the lead translator on maternity leave and their exegetical resource person leaving for more schooling. Thankfully, Justina, our new teammate in Japan, was able to fill in the exegetical slot, and another team member worked on Jonah and some of Acts until the lead translator returned.

South African Sign Language Bible

One more change for Mark was the temporary addition of one more project to work with. This summer Mark skyped in for an intense two weeks of detailed community checking, and then in December, a small window of opportunity for a face-to-face trip led to the publication of nine scripture passages from Genesis and Exodus. Pray for the team there as they continue to translate a series of short passages that introduce the broad scope of the Bible from Genesis to the birth of the church.

Wheelchairs of Hope

We began the year with a workshop reviewing how wheelchairs are to be refurbished.  I heard a new volunteer exclaim, “You go to that extreme to clean a wheelchair?!”  Yup, we talk about the “Gold Standard” and then there is the “Jesus Standard.”  We give the wheelchair in Jesus’ name and when we give it to the “least of these” we give it to Him.  So bring out the power-steam washers and also the Q-tips and toothpicks.  These chairs are detailed!

In January, we took our annual trip, this time to Myanmar. We met recipients who received wheelchairs in 2015 and could now see for ourselves how the chairs were holding up. One recipient we met was a widow whose husband had been a pastor. He and their only son died the same year, leaving her essentially destitute. The shock of her loss was too much and she had a stroke necessitating a wheelchair. Hearing her story and seeing her tears of joy we were encouraged to continue doing our best to serve her and others like her.  God opened amazing doors during the trip and we established contacts with several pastors, a church that has a free clinic, embassy personnel, and a highly placed medical director.  These people offered to provide logistical support (processing the chairs through customs and also providing storage and helping with distribution.)  Just this past December sent them a 20-foot container with 125 wheelchairs that will go to various individuals at an elder care facilities, two Christian clinics, and a special ed school.

A previous container went to Thailand in March, making the total number of wheelchairs given this year to 285.  (Grand total 2,209)

We sent a wheelchair to a recipient in Bhutan this year. (It’s a tiny landlocked country laying between Tibet and India.) We look forward to seeing what inroads might be made there.

We are thankful for the five Japanese churches that use this project to reach out into their surrounding communities We are receiving more used wheelchairs than we can handle.  Please pray that more volunteers will come to help, especially those adept at using a sewing machine to sew cushions for the chairs.

Please continue to pray for the upcoming annual trip, to Thailand this year.  Pray for the volunteers going as they interact with each other, that God’s grace will be a reality, that His Kingdom will come and His will be done here as it is in heaven.

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How can Mark work with the Thai SL translation?

Click for Video on Thai Sign Language Project

Short answer:  With a lot of help.
Longer answer:

Dinner story #1
We were having dinner at a nice restaurant with white linen tablecloths and ornate table-settings, but I (Mary Esther) was stealing glances at my friend’s fingernails.  I’d not seen her for quite a while, and now with her fork poised at her mouth before taking a bite I saw finger clubbing.

Finger clubbing?  I didn’t set out to notice but the fingernail deformity was severe enough my nursing background just saw it.  I tried to stay engaged in the conversation and not to go through the mental check list of potential causes–cardiac? pulmonary?  Does she know she might have a real problem?  Half way through the meal she mentioned her cardiologist and then I relaxed knowing she was receiving treatment.  Driving home I mentioned the clubbing to Mark.  He saw nothing.  Nothing? Nope, didn’t notice at all.  For reals.  Didn’t even know what finger clubbing was.

Dinner story #2
We were having supper at home with a linguist friend.  The food was okay and the conversation was fun until Mark interrupted and said, “Did you hear that?”  What?  Did I notice?  Notice what?  How the verb was used in that relative clause, an anomaly.  Nope, didn’t notice.  For reals.  Though I know what a verb is, and what a relative clause is, nothing jumped out at me.  But my husband couldn’t help himself and he and the linguist friend spent the next half hour discussing various deviations of theoretical linguistic patterns.

When we travel to countries where we don’t know the language Mark sees/hears patterns in the language.  Me?  I’m just trying to remember how to say “hello” and “where is the bathroom?”

You smile because you understand.  You too have gifting and training in some spheres and other areas where you don’t.

So yes, JSL and ThaiSL (Japanese Sign Language and Thai Sign Language) are different.  But for linguists or someone with a decent language aptitude, noticing how languages function or learning another language is just part of who they are.  They truly can’t help themselves.

But maybe the most germane idea is that Mark doesn’t do the translating.  Not even in Japan.  Since he is not a native speaker (it wasn’t a language he used  growing up) translation protocol says he will not translate.  So then, what does he do?  He checks.

Which brings us to the real question–How can you check if you don’t know the language?6EF7AC64-CA3A-40A1-A85D-04CBAE8F8AB3

1-How sign language operates:
It helps that in many sign languages there are some similarities in the use of the space in front of the signer*,  the use of face,** and classifiers.***  The actual manual signs, however, are almost all different between JSL and ThaiSL.

2-Community checking with a good interpreter:
When Mark attends a community comprehension check he knows what the text should say/mean.  If the feedback from those viewing the translation matches the text, all is well. If not, they revise. For instance, they showed Mark 11 to the Deaf people who had gathered–people who had not heard the story before.  After watching they re-told the narrative.  There seemed to be confusion as to what a “colt” was.  And they weren’t sure where the animal was found (“in the street” according to v 5.)  So there were two corrections that needed to be made.  There were a total of 50 corrections that day.

3-A talented Consultant-in-Training:
Can Mark do this work alone?  Absolutely not.  He relies on the team, and the better they get at translating, the fewer errors they make, and the easier Mark’s work is.  They have a Consultant in Training who works with the team to translate.  She knows Thai, ThaiSL, and English, and is very good at what she does.  During the translation process she texts or Skypes with Mark about questions they have on the passage.  She serves as interpreter for Mark while he is there checking the translation.  Also, a Deaf person on the team is a great communicator and finds ways to tell Mark what he needs to know and understands what Mark is trying to say.  And yes, sometimes they resort to drawing pictures.

Most of the translation work is done without Mark present.  He is available from Japan to give input on difficult translation issues, giving ideas on how things might be done, or done better, and advising the Consultant in Training. As the team gets better, his job gets easier. By the time he sees their work now, most of the easy problems are gone. The ultimate goal is to get the team on the ground to the place where they can handle it all.

Mark watches Deaf signing ThaiSL in various contexts; during informal conversation, church services, consultations, allowing him to see patterns he can expect to find in the translation.  So he does pick up some ThaiSL while there (the JSL team complains that when he returns he is throwing ThaiSL into his JSL.) But while checking he has to trust that since the team knows ThaiSL far better than he, if they say it communicates then it does, even if it looks “wrong” to him.

Thank you for praying.  The team reached their objectives for the 10 days Mark was there.  He flew back to Tokyo and is headed to the JSL office to look at the current draft of Luke.

*Semantics and pragmatics 2000 Metaphors in American Sign Language.  page 412
Wicox, Phyllis Perrin
Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Sarah F. Taub, Washington, DC (USA)
Check out # 6. Typological perspective: Use of sign space across sign languages

**Front Psychol. 2013; 4: 115.
Published online 2013 Mar 11. doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00115
PMCID: PMC3593340  Facial Expressions, Emotions, and Sign Languages
Eeva A. Elliott1,* and  Arthur M. Jacobs1,2

*** A definition:   “Classifiers are designated handshapes and/or rule-grounded body pantomime used to represent nouns and verbs. The purpose of the classifier is to provide additional information about nouns and verbs such as: location, kind of action, size, shape and manner. ”
Taken from Seattle Central College What, When and How to use ASL Classifiers. https://seattlecentral.edu/faculty/baron/Summer%20Courses/ASL%20223/ASL223ASLClassifiers.htm

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Adoniram Judson and 12 volunteers from Tokyo

Elementary boarding at the missionary kids school meant many things.  One was going to bed listening to missionary stories over the intercom system at night.  And one of those stories was of Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), America’s first foreign missionary  to far away Burma.

Monday, 12 volunteers from Wheelchairs of Hope traveled to Myanmar, some from the church and some not.  They went there to give 10 refurbished wheelchairs to pastors and a Christian pediatrician who runs a PT program in Yangon.

Please pray:
For physical health and safety.
For ease going through customs and immigration with the ten wheelchairs and other gifts for the orphanage..
For the opportunity of spending 5 days together as a team, to live and speak as servants of Jesus.
For time with various pastors, special ed. school, doctors, orphanage, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, elder care home, Hansen disease patient facility

Wheelchairs, and Hope.  Those are the gifts we want to share.

Learn more about Wheelchairs of Hope here

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Year-end Report

Japanese Sign Language Bible translation

“I know Luke 2 might not be released before this year’s Christmas celebration, but can I use a pre-publication draft? I was really hoping to preach from it.” After waiting nearly seven years to get the “other half” of the Christmas story in his language, Pastor Matsumoto did get Luke 2 in time for Christmas. What a present! Can you imagine struggling through the Christmas story in a foreign language year after year?

Thank you! You are the ones who cared enough to pray, give financially, work, or all of the above. With your support, the Japanese Sign Language Bible translation project made three big changes. First, they hired Mr. Terasawa as a translator this May; the first staffing increase since 2009. Because of this additional translator, 300,000 Japanese Deaf people had the full Christmas story this year. Also, because the project wants a Christian “face” on the video, he translated it all the way to the final draft, but someone else signed it on camera. This, too, has never been done before, and was a big success. The third “new thing” is that we disguised the signer with make-up. From here on, people won’t be seeing “Uiko’s translation,” or “Minamida’s translation,” but “JSL Bible’s translation.”

But it wasn’t just Christmas and Luke. In Japan, the New Year celebration is central. The old passes, the new is born—death and resurrection; a hint of redemption. In Leviticus too, the lamb dies, and the community is put right, with God and with each other. Uiko, the project director, gave a good portion of the year to translating Leviticus 1-14. As she did, she kept saying things like: “I never really understood _____ until now,” and “People need to know this!” Now, Japanese Deaf people will be able to access and learn from the first half of Leviticus. Redemption and relationship in all its nitty gritty gory glory. So again, we say thank you.

We also say “please.” Because this year, we need you more than ever. In 2017, we tackle the rest of Leviticus and the rest of Luke, and are looking to hire a second video editor as we move toward two full translation teams. Please pray!

Thai Sign Language Bible translation

Last year brought another expansion—Mark made three trips to Thailand to serve as the consultant for a Bible translation project there. In February, he worked with the Thai Bible Society’s Deaf team on Mark 1-2. This team was brand new–they had just started working together in December. Even so, they were able to finish these two chapters and publish in time for a big event in March. In May, they worked on Mark 3-6, also building systems that would lead to faster, better translation work. On the September/October trip, they tackled Mark 7-10, and are now finishing up the final recordings. Through the year, we’ve worked out a good rhythm of on-site consulting and off-site checking.

In 2017, they aim to finish Mark and start in on Acts. But they face challenges. A key resource person is leaving to get more schooling in July. Pray that the team will find a new exegetical expert; someone who can communicate well in Thai Sign Language, get them the Bible knowledge that they need, and check their work without influencing the integrity of their signing.

Wheelchairs of Hope

Our son Daniel has received a new wheelchair since we wrote our last annual report.  To get this chair we attended appointments, made phone calls, talked to medical personnel, made more phone calls, waited, learned our request was approved, and then waited another 10 months for the chair to actually materialize.  It was a HUGE deal when Daniel was placed into the chair we had waited for so long.

By contrast, Wheelchairs of Hope sent 140 wheelchairs to people in other Asian countries. For many, this was their very first wheelchair–a lifetime of waiting.  We sent a 20 foot container to Cambodia, partnering with Cambodia Ministries for Christ and International Mine Clearance and Community Development.  Many of the recipients were amputees, victims of the landmines seeded during three decades of war.  Losing a limb usually impacts the more than the individual; it is often the parent working the fields or fishing at the river to feed their family who is injured.  We were thankful to partner with these organizations and to meet those receiving wheelchairs.  One young man had never been able to attend school, but missionaries had taught him to read and now he was enrolled in Bible classes, wanting to become a pastor, thrilled to be able to get out and about now with his wheelchair.

This month 12 volunteers from Wheelchairs of Hope will travel to Myanmar delivering wheelchairs to a pastor and Christian doctor who runs a special education program and physical therapy clinic for children.  We are delighted to be able to support them in their ministries.  Of the 12 going, about half are Christians.  We are glad for the opportunity to build stronger relationships with volunteers God sends to the project.

Later in the spring we will send another container to a government operated children’s hospital in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Their wheelchair project is run by a man who grew up there as a missionary kid, and everyone of his workers is a short term missionary, many from Europe. One worker we met was a believer from Iran.  It was exciting to see how you in the US, we in Tokyo, brothers and sisters from Europe and even Iran, are all part of the Body together taking the news of Jesus to families in a government hospital in Thailand. We use refurbished wheelchairs as a tangible expression of what it means to take something used and worn and make it new.  Please pray that this will be the story for those receiving these wheelchairs.

Thank you for your financial and prayer support for us, the Deaf in Japan and Thailand, and those who are learning of Jesus because of a wheelchair.

For photos  and videos of these three projects, check out this link.   This is our Facebook ministry page. If you don’t have a Facebook account, you might have to ignore  some pleas to join up, but you can still see everything. If you’re already up on Facebook and want to keep up throughout the year, just hit the “like” button on our page.

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They Don’t Teach ADR in Seminary

We needed a sound proof room

So– 4 ski poles, 3 blankets, 2 cell phones, and a Penner perched on a plastic bucket in the shower stall—  perfect–we had our recording studio

Some of you prayed for Joseph and Ashley who gave two weeks of their time to come and record video footage of Japanese Deaf people telling their stories. Joseph is now making videos from this footage.

For obvious reasons sound was not an issue for most of the recording. Ironically, the location and time when we (Mark and Mary Esther) were interviewed, was the noisiest–with a loud speaker advertising a special lunch, music blaring from a sightseeing ferryboat that just docked, and a helicopter that seemed to come from nowhere and hovered overhead. This ambient noise proved too much so Joe asked if we could please re-do the voicing.  We needed to repeat (in a natural voice) what we had said during the interview, and this should be done in a “quiet room.”  Though our Tokyo apartment is above a store, less than one minute from a train station, we did think it rather quiet until we began recording.  Then even the refrigerator, ticking clock, and neighbors closing their doors, all seemed rather loud.
Our shower room, in the middle of the apartment, with rags stuffed in the exhaust vent and ski poles tenting various blankets to blunt the echo, and voila! We had our sound studio–pictured above.

We recorded our lines in roughly 30 takes.  They don’t teach ADR in seminary!

We can hardly wait for the videos to be finished so we can show them to you, and you can let us know what you think.

Meanwhile, please pray for Joseph and Ashley as they work on this important project. Pray for the details–artistic decisions, technical skill, equipment to function, their health and energy, and then pray for those who will be viewing these videos to grasp the import of the message.

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Luke 1-6 and Leviticus 1-14 are recorded!

498 times the camera started rolling and the signer began signing–114 of those were good takes–and in the end, 725 verses were captured.
Those are just numbers though. Four of the five days we were working until very late, and the amount of mental energy it took to process all that information on camera so many times with no mistakes is just incalculable.
Often the week after recording is slow-down time. But the team hardly missed a beat–everyone pitching in, working overtime to get Luke 1-2 available in time for Christmas, they dove into post-production.  Editing each good take, adding verse references to the top corner of the frame, adding our version of italics (an * for information that is clearly implied but not actually stated in the original text), and text for specialized vocabulary (names and technical words). After struggling with workflow and equipment alike, Luke 1-6 landed on the app December 19. For the first time ever, Japanese Deaf people would have the whole Christmas story in their language.  By Christmas Sunday.
Leviticus is now undergoing the same detailed care, and we should see it on the app before the new year.
PS Check out the JSL Bible project’s facebook page December 9 and 19 for some fun videos: https://www.facebook.com/japandeafevangelmission/
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Why Leviticus?

When she heard we had been questioned about our choice of books for translation, a friend wrote about her own experience:

Last year, my son, feeling perhaps  revengeful because of the extra Japanese homework I had given him, suddenly said to me, “I dare you to read Leviticus—in Japanese! Wahahaahahaha!!”  Purely to meet my son’s challenge, I set out to –gulp–get through the book of Leviticus in Japanese. I didn’t expect much from it, but ended up with a treasure.  Here’s what I picked up.

1. Details MATTER

Details matter to God.  Leviticus is almost painfully detailed. There’s always temptations to do less than the best when, if we meticulously do our best, people might not even notice or care.  But in Leviticus I get the picture of God with a magnifying glass inspecting our lives up close, and labeling what he finds for three categories:  a)dirty  b) clean / common , and c) HOLY.  I don’t want to fudge on any work done for God–he asks for my best.

2. Domestic life matters hugely

Domestic details matter to God. I did not calculate exact distribution, but of all the regulations in Leviticus, it seems to me  that a majority of the book is directly concerned with domestic life:  Keeping the body clean and disease-free, and the food clean, and the house clean —  why, not only does God notice all the monotonous, repetitive, neverending tasks of keeping bodies, house, and food clean, he really cares about these details or he would not have devoted so much of the torah to it. Wait, if details + domestic life matters so much to God, why that means —

3. Women’s work matters to God!

Domestic life is often women’s work–certainly this woman’s work.
As a housewife I was going through a “nothing I do matters” phase, and “even if I clean it well, it’ll soon be dirty again” complaints. It dawned on me half way through Leviticus that God was totally interested in all this unseen, forgetable, repetitive work I do to keep us clean and healthy.  He himself ordered such meticulous work!  Because people matter, and people’s well being matters. And God says through this book that my family is worth all this extra care. Even if no one thanks me, I can know that this stuff is important to God.  I had not expected to feel so validated by the book of Leviticus!

(Am I correct in my impression that Leviticus speaks more of what’s going on inside the house than outside? other than temple instructions maybe.)

oops, I’m falling asleep at the computer, so I leave more un-expounded upon for now. Until I can steal a moment again to finish this email, just be encouraged because Leviticus is full of blessing.

Love, A.

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Luke 2 in their own language for the very first time !

This week we are glad to be under studio lights again.  The Japanese Sign Language Bible translation project will record Leviticus 1-16 and Luke 1-6!  We are very excited.

For the first time ever,  the Japanese Deaf people will have Luke 2 in their own language!  Pastor Matsumoto is very happy and asked for an early draft so he could begin planning his Christmas message on the 25th based on Luke 2, a first for him and his church.

However, there are some obstacles.

Please pray for:

  • the on-camera signer is having some problems with a swollen eye and reaction to the make up
  • Mark and Hori to have the concentration and attention to detail necessary during this week as they check the signing as it is being recorded in the studio
  • the makeup artist–every day this week the make up/hair needs to be seamless
  • camera/tech/lighting man–the look needs to be seamless all week
  • the equipment to hold up

Rejoice with us:

  • the team is energized and excited.  When these portions are make available later this month the Japanese Deaf will have 26% of God’s Word in their own language!
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Weakness and the Power of God


my son, and a beautiful woman . . .


This is my son, Daniel. He lives in a group home in California.  He is unable to talk, unable to walk, unable to care for even his most basic needs–he does not even swallow. I live a very long ways away. Yes, I miss him, very much.

He is able to attend Calvary church because caregivers take him and because the church welcomes and “makes room” for him. Caregivers change out frequently, and this past Sunday, the annual baptismal service, a beautiful woman I have never met accompanied him.

Here is the story I heard from my friend:

 I looked over and noticed the woman was crying during the service, obviously moved by the testimonies.   As they were baptizing an invitation went out for anyone else who wanted to be baptized to come forward.  Next thing I know Cheryl was leading the woman up to the baptism area.  I could hear her worrying about Daniel but Cheryl reassured her saying, “I will watch him”.  The pastors talked to the woman, she was supplied with shorts and a tee shirt, she gave a brief testimony and was baptized.

My son Daniel still lives in a group home.  He is still unable to talk, walk, or care for even his most basic needs. I still live a very long ways away. . . .

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Thai Sign Language Gospel of Mark

dad91659-7d55-4b6a-bdd9-63cbd8d6429d.jpgThank you for praying!

The team made great progress during Mark’s recent trip to Bangkok to consult on the Thai Sign Language version of the Gospel of Mark.

The hours were long.  After finishing up the day’s work at the office with the team, Mark headed back to the hotel to check that day’s new translation work.  He managed to stay one step ahead (mostly), and the team made good progress.

Last February, they spent two weeks working through chapters 1 and 2, and with lots of work by Skype afterward, just made the March 26 deadline for publishing. This trip, only three months later, the team tackled chapters 3-6, more than twice as much material. They showed tremendous growth in both translation skills and workflow. With better pre-checking by the team the translation Mark checked had far fewer issues that needed addressing.

Another huge step forward–the team began using a video cueing system (adapted from the Japanese Sign Language Bible project.)  The signer follows the video, signing what she sees rather than relying completely on memory. This reduces the memory load on the signer, which allows her to give more focus to expression. It also allows for more fine-tuning of the translation. Small portions the team wants to fix can be recorded exactly as they want. The fixes get edited into the cueing draft without changing anything else. Signing speed is also closer to normal. In some of the earlier work, you could almost see her trying to remember what came next, or where the fix was, and this slowed the signing down.

Mark’s load is lighter too, with checking of followup drafts going much more quickly. When working from memory, new mistakes sometimes cropped up when old mistakes got fixed. Now everything that doesn’t need changing stays exactly the same as before. Praise God with us, and pray as they soon encounter the ultimate test of their new skill–the final recording session.

Prayer requests:

  • For the final recording, pray that the signer will have the support she needs to sign naturally and accurately.
  • Pray that the resource person who is away this summer will have fruitful studies, and that the team will function well in her absence.
  • Pray that people and churches will begin to develop a vision for how to use the translation. There are only two chapters published so far, but it’s not too soon to start.
  • Pray for the timing of the next trip. There needs to be enough time for the team to prepare but we also want to keep the momentum going.6e083cb0-bfd2-41a9-8a60-bd9771161693.jpg
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