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Mary Bandara’s Story
From Darkness to Light: A Former Buddhist Encounters the True God


At one time or another, we reach important turning points in our hearts and lives when we ponder, in small ways or big ways, thoughts about our future. We all ask questions like, “What is truth?”, “What is the meaning of this life?”, and “What happens after death?” For some, this is of the utmost importance and for others, it is just a passing inquiry, a momentary thought, but not that important to go after. One way or the other, these thoughts will come to all our minds at some point in life.

Being a preschool teacher and a trainer of preschool teachers for more than twenty-five years, I have observed that the first few years of a person’s life is the formative period. We spend this period gathering information to our minds from the environment with our five senses. So, the culture and religion of the country of birth give each of us, to some extent, an understanding of the answer to these questions on one level. My religion of birth played a vital role in my upbringing by my parents and grandmother. I can recollect—walking down memory lane as a little girl—how I went to the temple with my mother and grandmother. The temple to which we went was very large surrounded by a lot of acreage. It had many smaller shrines that were built separately but were accessible to each person who entered the main entrance of the temple property. The monks also had their own monastery inside, and they lived there.

Buddhist temple

My parents were very prominent and devoted Buddhists. They gave large amounts of money to maintain the temple and helped in numerous other ways. So, from the time I was six years old, I learned by watching my mother and grandmother what I should do when I went to the temple. In honor of Buddha, we removed our shoes or slippers at the temple entrance. We took a basket of flowers from our garden, a bottle of oil, wicks, and fragrance sticks to worship Buddha. Once inside the temple, first, my mom would worship the sacred Bo-Tree. The Bo-Tree (Bodhi Tree) is a large, ancient-looking tree with thick roots protruding out of the ground. The ground around it is clean sand with small shrines erected there, so Buddhists can sit and worship. They believe, according to Buddhist tradition, that Buddha was sitting under a Bo-Tree when he obtained enlightenment (nirvana). That experience was the end of his search to find an end to his suffering. This took place in India. Buddhists give great reverence to this tree, in respect of this. The roots run very deep. It is taught that the shoot from which the tree grew was brought from the parent tree where the Buddha originally received enlightenment (nirvana) in India.

She would water it, lay down the flowers, and light up the oil lamps with the oil and wicks. We didn’t have a problem with getting fire to light the lamp because there were plenty of lamps burning. I observed almost everyone was busy doing these rituals the same way my mom or grandma did. There were shrines built near the Bo-Tree. We would put a plastic cloth on the sandy ground and sometimes my sisters were there too. We would all kneel on that plastic cloth with our palms pointing up, facing the Bo-Tree in a worship mode. My mom and all those with her would chant gathas (short worship songs) and mantras in the ancient Pali or Sanskrit languages in great reverence to the Bo-Tree. Buddhists chant parts of the Pali canon which is similar to a hymnal. The Pali canon is the standard collection of gathas and pirith (long stanzas in the Pali and Sanskrit languages). I believe these are very ancient languages that Buddha used.

As a little girl, I didn’t understand a thing they were repeating in these gathas and pirith. I asked my mom about it. She didn’t even know what she was repeating! Eventually, I too learned to repeat the gathas and sutras which were written in small books. Some were short. Some were very long. My mom and grandma said they were all blessings for us. Then we moved on to the next place where we worshipped. Here, we laid flowers to the Chaitya. It was called a stupa, a commemorative monument usually containing sacred relics of the Buddha or his disciples. There were shrines around the stupa for us to lay these flowers. Then we moved to the central shrine room of Buddha which contained a very tall statue of Buddha. We laid on the floor and worshipped in great reverence.

There were also several other statues in this shrine room. Buddha’s enlightenment statue was there. Sometimes, while my mom and grandma recited the Pali sutras and gathas, I wandered around looking at the other statues. In one area, I found large paintings on the wall and statues depicting hell. Both were images of dogs with blood pouring out of their mouth. Also, there were statues with demon faces and human bodies. Their faces had long teeth covered in blood. They looked very frightening and disturbing. There were also paintings on the walls of men and women who were being burned by fire. They were very gruesome paintings and seemed very cruel. Also, a picture of Yama King was there (the one that Buddhists call the king of hell) .

According to what I had learned from the Buddhist priests and my teachers who taught me Buddhism in school, Niraya in the Pali language and Naraka in Sanskrit language mean hell. The nature of a person’s existence is determined by the cause and effect law of karma. It depends on what sort of misdeeds a person has committed to pay the penalty in hell. After paying the penalty in hell one can return by human birth to start doing good karma again. Karma is understood as a natural law that results in an appropriate rebirth. Several texts in the Pali sutra describe the Buddhist hell.

So as a little girl, I would see these statues and drawings on the walls of the Buddhist shrine room. A whole section depicted the existence of hell. These descriptions showed it is a gruesome place of successive torments in which a person suffers as the result of his or her karmic sins. This troubled me deeply, especially because I knew nothing of how to experience forgiveness for sin and peace in God.

Moving on, there were small shrines (each with a statue) made for Hindu deities as well. So, we would go around lighting lamps and burning incense to these deities. This round of worship in the temple took a long time. As the years passed by, I grew exhausted by the amount of time each session entailed. There were some days which were special days (holidays) where my mom or grandma would stay on to listen to the teaching by a Buddhist priest. On the sandy ground in the central part of the temple, a large crowd was seated, and they all listened to the priest’s teaching. These teachings were in the common language and covered the life of Buddha. I observed, when hearing about his history, it was not a story of one single birth that he lived on earth. I learned that Buddha had many previous births. Later, I found out that according to Buddhist doctrine, his previous births had taken the forms of animals as well, such as a lion and an elephant.

So, rebirth was a commonly accepted feature of my life as a Buddhist, based on what I heard from my early years onward from my mother, grandmother, teachers in my Buddhist school, and Buddhist priests in the temple. I went to a Buddhist school from kindergarten through high school. There, we were not exposed to any other religion except Hinduism. So, I did not know about any other faiths. All the people in our immediate community were Buddhists also.


I came to believe that I had experienced many previous births and that my future number of rebirths were unlimited until nirvana (enlightenment) could be attained. Nirvana is the end of suffering and release from the cycle of births. The hope of better rebirths is also a major incentive for any Buddhist to do good works. I vividly remember when we went to the temple and encountered the priests. First, we bowed down and knelt to pay respect to them. Then they pronounced a standard blessing over us saying, “May you receive better births, and in the end, attain nirvana.”

Providiing Buddhist monks (priests) a meal

My parents and relatives would give dana. That’s a word that means providing a ceremonial multi-course meal prepared with certain rituals to the Buddhist priests. Dana can be given in one’s own home or it can be taken to the temple. Pirith recitals are also done in a home by inviting the Buddhist priests (monks) to the home. When this happened, I remember my mom or grandma putting a clean cloth on each chair for them to sit. We would bow down to them in reverence. Then we would sit on the floor to talk to them and address them in great honor. It was important that we sat at a lower level to show our respect. Everyone was very busy running around to finish all the tasks associated with the dana.

My father disliked these customs. He agreed to dana and doing good works to please my mom. But by the things he said, I could tell that he hated doing them. It was clear to me that he did not do it with love. Now when I think about it, it was more for good works and the merits it would bring our family than sharing or giving from a heart of love. I had a relative who did good works and took pride in herself, as everyone admired her works. However, some of my relatives became very tired doing these good works in temples and communities (like me!) But we were promised that the result of the merits we earned would allow us to obtain better lives, better births, and in the end, nirvana. So, we kept struggling and striving.


There was a point in my life, in my early thirties, when I would think a lot about future rebirths, and it scared me. I didn’t like the idea of being born again and again and having a new family every time. At that point, I was suffering personally with relationship issues in my life. That made me feel that millions of rebirths are unending suffering. Nirvana, my goal in Buddhism, seemed so far away!

The law of karma is a core belief for all Buddhists. So, each individual must take responsibility for his or her own actions. It is based on the law of cause and effect. Accordingly, whatever is done in this birth, good or bad, will impact the next birth. I realized that it is not only in this present life that I would suffer numerous negative effects, but my future births depended on karma, the cause and effect law. So, I was paying a penalty for my sins, birth after birth, yet always hoping that my future births would be better.

I desperately wanted to stop this cycle of rebirths. So, I dove deep into Buddhism. I eventually encountered teachings about meditation. Although I had heard of it before, I had never done it. Let me show you what leads a Buddhist to the belief that meditation is needed. Buddha said there are four noble truths. Here they are, worded in a way that is easy to understand:

Number one: life is filled with suffering.
Number two: the cause of suffering is desire.
Number three: the way to end suffering is to end desire.
Number four: the way to accomplish that is the noble eightfold path.

The eight-fold path consists of eight lifestyle commitments. It is a summary of the Buddhist practices that are supposed to lead a person to liberation from samsara, the painful cycle of rebirths.

Number one: right views
Number two: right intentions
Number three: right speech
Number four: right actions
Number five: right livelihood
Number six: right effort
Number seven: right concentration
Number eight: right mindfulness

Out of these eight practices of right living which Buddha gave, right concentration and right mindfulness are the most important ones to end suffering, and they involve meditation. Buddha also explained about the middle path. The middle path is the avoidance of two extremes of life.

Number one: avoidance of indulgence in sensual pleasures
Number two: avoidance of severe asceticism

I learned two primary types of meditation: samatha (right concentration) and vipassana (insight meditation). I did these meditations extensively and continuously. I went to a Buddhist nunnery where nuns lived in kutis or caves. They do not have much contact with society. They live in seclusion. I went to practice meditation with them. They hope to avoid temptations or the negative impact of interacting with the world and ordinary people to keep their minds focused in meditation. That is the reason some Buddhist monks build kutis or live in caves in forests: in order to practice meditation away from the world and to avoid issues people normally face in the world. They don’t have to interact with the world and are able to do meditation without any disturbances or encumbrances.

This requires a lot of self-effort and self-discipline. I tried hard to live in the law of the eight-fold path. But how could I do it on my own? I am only human! I can only do so much. The eight-fold path is not easy, as you can see. I needed something more powerful—holy, pure, life-giving—pouring into me. I couldn’t keep that spiritual pace up forever, and into my next birth also—and Buddha was no longer living, so he could not help me! It came to the point when I concluded that I could not attain nirvana during my current birth. Then the disturbing question was, “How many more births will I have to go through like this, paying penalties for my karma?” I was desperate. I was deeply troubled. Who could help me now? Where could I turn?


From my childhood days, I was told that Buddha went through many rebirths himself and that they all involved suffering. So, how could I make it? I was not as advanced as him. I just didn’t feel I could go on anymore. I came to a dead end. I wanted to leave my pursuit of nirvana and my commitment to Buddhist ideals and goals, but where could I go?

In Buddhism, one who seeks a spiritual awakening is called a bodhisattva, someone who is walking the path that leads to becoming a Buddha. A Buddha is one who has already achieved enlightenment. The bodhisattva must go through millions of births before obtaining Buddhahood. This cycle of rebirths could take a kalpa (4,320,000,000 years). Buddhism clearly states that in just one lifetime, the cycle of rebirths produced by bad karma cannot be dissolved or broken. It normally takes many lives.

My belief system from my younger days, carefully woven and threaded by my dear grandma and mother, unraveled. It was all gone. I felt overwhelmed, betrayed and lost. All my relatives and close family were Buddhists. Followers of Buddhism are often really kind, good people. They want to do good. They try very hard to lead good lives. So, I asked myself, “Where do I go from here?”

After going through intensive samatha and vipassana meditation for four long years, I achieved the jhana stages. Meditation certainly helped me remain calm and tranquil, and it made a positive difference in my personality. But I realized that this has to be continued in numerous births (in samsara, the cycle of rebirths) to obtain nirvana (the complete end of suffering). At that point, I despaired that I could ever escape, so I left my religion, Buddhism.

When I walked away from Buddha and the religion he founded, I had no idea where to go or what to do. I only knew one thing. I had to find a way to end these rebirths. I couldn’t go through the inevitable suffering of human existence over and over again. It was not easy for me. It was actually very difficult for me to leave Buddhism since it was my only religion from birth. I deeply honored it. During that period of time I often thought, “If there is a chance this religion reveals and promotes the truth, I cannot walk away from it.” I struggled. I felt like I was walking away from someone I trusted for a long time! I felt so lost. I felt completely let down. I felt betrayed.

At that point of my life I was going through many hardships and emotional breakdowns. I went into a very deep depression and even wanted to end my life. I also experienced a total physical breakdown. I began having seizures and tremors that might last 5-10 minutes and shake my entire body. Afterward, I would feel completely exhausted. The muscles in my forehead and the sides of my head would tighten up to the point where I would just stare into space. Even my eyesight was affected. But all of that pain broke down my resistance, so that I would receive the truth when I heard it.


Around August of 1996, I heard someone mention that the name of God was Jehovah. I wondered if that could be just another one of those Hindu deities. I said His name softly in utter weakness, almost as a question: Jehovah? Immediately I got strength in my body like I had never felt before. I was actually experiencing healing! Something supernatural was taking place and I knew it.

After a few months, I accepted Jesus Christ into my life. One of my work associates was a Christian. She would bring me gifts: books to read and chocolates. One day when I was sick, she brought me a card that said God had a purpose for my life. She shared with me how Jesus was more than a man, how He was born of a virgin, how He was God incarnate in this world, how He died on the cross for the sins of humanity, and most importantly, how He rose from the dead. I found out later she had prayed for me without my knowledge for ten years. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude. I may not have fully understood everything about Christianity, but I felt God’s love flowing through my co-worker.

She led me in this prayer and confession of faith: “Dear Lord Jesus, I need You. I’m tired of doing things my way. I invite You into my heart as my Savior and Lord. I sincerely repent. I want to turn away from all my sins and wrong beliefs. Forgive me. I receive Your gift of eternal life in faith.”

When people receive Jesus into their hearts, they are translated from the kingdom of spiritual darkness into the kingdom of the true light. God’s light and eternal life were manifested in Jesus Christ. So, when I, as a Buddhist, accepted God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, I accepted eternal life, my personal connection to eternity. 1 John 1:2 tells us that “the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us.”

This is what I searched for in Buddhism, to end the suffering of samsara, the cycle of rebirths. How tired I got! How hard I tried! But Hebrews 9:27 assures us, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” It is so important for us to find God during this one lifetime He has given us. God, in His mercy, has sent eternal life in His Son to us, but we must accept it.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” All of us know that the body is decaying and going back to dust, but God gave His eternal Spirit to me when I accepted Jesus. I was born again by the Spirit of God and now I know, I will live with God eternally. Oh, what wonderful freedom this is! This is the good news! Freedom from the fear of death! Freedom from thinking that I am bound to some cycle of rebirths!

Only Jesus was born of a virgin.
Only Jesus lived a sinless life.
Only Jesus died on a cross for the sins of humanity.
Only Jesus rose from the dead.
Only Jesus was the Son of God.

He once made the bold statement, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Once the way to God is known, the truth is known. Once the truth is known, the life of Jesus pours into our hearts awakening us to a relationship with God. Then the Father daily fills us with that holy, pure, life-giving Holy Spirit so that light will grow inside of us. There is no self-effort needed to try and grow. God’s Word is planted daily in us. The Holy Spirit waters us. But Jesus is the One who makes us grow spiritually (1 Corinthians 3:6-9). To keep us in right living, Jesus continues to do that. That’s what He is doing in me now. The peace, the joy, and the righteousness I have is the work of Christ living in me now. As it is written in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” Thank God, I have found the Source of all things good.


Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.” Yes! Accept Jesus and see, you can experience this for yourself. I did it! I am so blessed I said this prayer of inviting Jesus into my heart. If He had not come into my life, I can’t even imagine where I would be today. But today, because of Jesus Christ, I am a mother of two wonderful sons and in addition, have a “daughter in grace,” and a wonderful grandson and my husband is a blessed man of God.

As you walk with God during life’s journey, you get to know Him more. That, too, is a wonderful, blessed experience in itself. One thing that helps make this happen is the Lord’s prayer (the prayer that Jesus gave His disciples to pray):

“Our Father in heaven; hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:9-13)

A very profound teaching in this prayer: the phrase “on earth as it is in heaven.” That means you want the perfect will of God performed in your life—every single day. What a wonderful way to live! You know the will of God by reading the Word of God. Reading God’s Word (the Bible) separates you from the things that destroy you mentally and emotionally. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

When that truth penetrates your soul, it gives freedom from lies, deception, and all false beliefs. There is no need to doubt or ponder anymore. It teaches you step by step to walk toward the goal of eternity. The wonderful thing, beloved, is that you can experience it for yourself by simply asking Jesus to come into your life, your heart! Once you meet Him, you will discover the following Bible promises to be true:

He is a healing God – Psalms 103:3 “Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases.”

He is a God of restoration – Psalms 51:12: “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

He is a God who protects – 2 Timothy 4:18: “The Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom.”

He is a God who provides – Philippians 4:19: “My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

He is a God of love – 1 John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

He is a God of peace – John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

He is a God of righteousness – 1 John 5:18: “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.”

He is God of judgment – Romans 14:12: “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”

He does all these things because of one thing, and that one thing is: His love for you and for me! But we must “give account” to Him of all we have done in life in order to receive these benefits. It is worth it friend! It is such a treasure to find this spiritual wealth. So, tell God you are sorry for your sins.


My beloved, as you get closer to God, He gets closer to you. So, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8). I’m telling you this because I have experienced it in my life since 1996. God’s is all about relationship! We pray for God’s blessings. We all love blessings when God answers prayers. But there is more to it. It is not only a prayer connection with God. A purification process starts in your inner life. It turns into a relationship of godly love. God is love. You begin to love God as He so gently reveals to you what love without conditions is really like (unconditional love). You begin to be a doer of His Word, to love others, and do good because you love Him and love them. 1 John 4:7 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” In this, your heart becomes purer and closer to Him.

Having a very close walk with Jesus is what I long to do when each day dawns because of the love I have for God. I read the Bible regularly, because it is the Word of truth. As Jesus spoke in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” I pray for myself, my family, my prayer group, and anyone that God brings to my mind. I talk to Him and I love to listen to Him. I love to sit at His feet and just meditate on the Word of truth. Listening and responding to the Holy Spirit within helps me discern truth from error. This has become an integral part of my life, not something that I have to do, but I WANT to do.

As we get the infilling of the truth, we practice walking in love toward others. This is a great transformation in the life of a believer who is following Jesus. We need that, too, because unless we get opportunities to practice, we will not know who we are or how we are growing in our attitude toward our fellow human beings.

This is not about isolating one’s self from the world and its negativity. This is going into the brokenness of the world and living life in a godly manner. Jesus explained that even though we are in the world, we are not “of the world” (John 17:16). “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). No one can achieve the kingdom of God through any endeavor of his own effort through any religion, however holy his purpose. It’s not about religion; it’s about relationship—relationship with the One who created you.

One birth, one true God, and the start of eternity beginning here on earth! As the old Christian hymn goes, “This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long!”


Jesus Christ, who has always existed as God, has the power to deliver us from sin. He provided this wonderful opportunity  by dying on the cross and rising from the dead. The life of Christ on earth was necessary to save mankind from sin. When He walked on the earth, He went thought the same kind of emotional and mental struggles that we do. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus’ “understanding is infinite”: it is beyond measure (Psalms 147:5). This was the first word from the Bible that I heard. When I heard this word from the Bible, the book of the holy Scriptures, I received a great consolation in my life that Jesus understands me fully: the way I think, what I have gone through in my past—and He offers me forgiveness. Not only that, He is willing to give me a new life, a life of righteousness, which He is going to help me to live, leading to eternity.

My past life had many issues. I was a weak and fearful person. Jesus healed me physically, emotionally, and mentally. (No wonder the prophet Isaiah said, “His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” – Isaiah 9:6.) Jesus came to enable you to have a relationship with Him – to bridge the gap between you and a holy God, to help you to understand what it means to commit your life to Christ. Then on earth you will start your journey with the one true God to get to know Him more, His Word, His ways, and the kingdom of God, and to be sure and know for your own self that you will be spending eternity with God.

We worship God with great love. We want to honor Him. We are so grateful to God. Jesus said to the Samaritan woman that there would be a time when worshippers will worship God in spirit and in truth. John 4:24 says, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” So, we worship in our spirit. We don’t have to be in a building or at a shrine. I love to worship God. It is not like an obligation or a ritual or a custom. I worship God with all my heart in great reverence with my hands lifted up. It is not only the time of singing worship songs, but in everything I do, from the time I wake up in the morning until I go to sleep at night. My words, my attitude toward others, how we handle our money, everything is worship to God. When God’s Word rules your life, worship rises from your life. The Word is powerful and living. It speaks into your life.

God has blessed my life in so many ways. I am so full of gratitude for the Word of God. It teaches me how to live my life. “Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction. I will never forget Your precepts, for by them You have given me life” (Psalms 119:92-93).

I am thankful for the transformation God made in my life through His Word. Instead of going to pieces, I was strengthened. Instead of being a burden to others, I could be a blessing. As you realize God’s power, comfort, and strength through life, you come to a place where you want to share the goodness of the Lord with others.


Beloved, wherever you are, be assured that the new life in Christ (that manifest in words and actions) is a great blessing and extremely satisfying. 1 Peter 3:15 instructs us:

“Sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.”

I am sharing the words of the living God from the Bible, which are very helpful. Please look up these scriptures for yourself:

When you are burdened (1 Peter 5:7, Matthew 11:28)
When you are treated badly (1 Peter 2:23-25)
When you are feeling weak (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
When you need rest (Psalms 4:8)
When you are seeking God’s righteousness  (Matthew 5:48)
When you are facing sorrow (Romans 8:26-28)
When you are facing temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13)
When you are lonely (Psalms 23)
When you are seeking guidance (James 1:5)
When you need courage (Psalms 138:3)
When you need forgiveness (1 John 1:9)
When you seek peace in times of stress (Philippians 4:6-7)
When you need patience (James 1:2-4)

I invite you to read the Bible for yourself and experience the goodness of the Lord, the one true God who can give you eternal life. If you do give your heart to the Lord Jesus, please contact me and let me know. I would like to help you continue in your journey as a Christian. God bless you, and may you be a blessing!


You may contact Mary Bandara by email: marymail38@yahoo.com

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Written by Mike Shreve