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William Carey: Using God’s Means to Convert the People of India (Part 1)

My reason for publishing this account of William Carey and his Indian mission on my website.

On 18-21 February, 2010 a conference will be held at Muscle Shoals, Alabama under the theme ‘The Quagmire of Hyper-Calvinism’. The key speaker will be Dr. Michael Haykin who will lecture on Andrew Fuller as a missionary pioneer. The myth that Andrew Fuller pioneered a missionary movement is superstitiously believed by Dr. Haykin and his circle but the Baptist Missionary Society Fuller helped to found came at the rear end of a long line of Christian missionary organisations whether church based or, like the BMS, a para-church movement. Andrew Fuller was not the instigator of this missionary society but William Carey who urged the Baptists to act as other churches and nations had been acting for centuries. When Carey reached India, he had more support from Continental missionary societies and missionary minded friends from Scandinavia and Germany than from the Baptist Missionary Society which Fuller re-structured it Carey’s absence. Indeed, Carey founded his mission in a Danish, not British Protectorate. So fierce was Fuller’s and later Ryland Junior’s chauvinistic, political interference in the Indian Mission that Carey had to complain that Fuller’s influence was a ‘killing’ influence and that Ryland’s letters to the mission were ‘evil’. So, too, the myth that the BMS supported the Indian Mission financially is a macabre piece of humour. It was the Indian Missionaries who financed the Home Club with their gigantic, well-earned gifts. Neither financial, nor theological, nor political ties bound Fuller and Ryland with Carey’s India but a strange kind of love-hate friendship which has still to be researched. So, too, the ‘holding the ropes’ ideology preached by Haykin and his crew which is supposed to have cemented relationships between Fuller, Sutcliffe, Ryland and Carey until their deaths is also a myth. Those ropes were cut by the home team a mere year after Carey reached India and the support promised for even that year never materialised. So, too, it was Fuller’s action which caused the initial torturous trials of the mission through his placing, without the knowledge of the committee, a most unlikely candidate in their midst who looked to the mission to get rid of his enormous debts.

There are so many myths propagated by the New Divinity theology of Michael Haykin and his Fuller Fan Club that it might take years for those who make themselves familiar with the sources to clean out their very dirty Fullerite stables. The fact is, Haykin wishes, like Robert Oliver, to re-write Baptist history to make it look as though Particular Baptists had always believed as Fuller though it is a simple thing to show that his views were obtained from eighteenth century American New Divinity Presbyterian preachers and English Congregationalists. There is not an ounce of Baptist or even Reformed theology in it. It is a deceitful, underhand rouse to alter the Baptist, Reformed and even Christian Faith. Haykin is presenting not merely a New Theology but a New Christianity which fiercely and militantly denies the fundamentals of the Biblical Christian Faith.

We must also not forget that very soon Fuller and the BMS dropped all claim on any theological basis whatsoever and merged with not only General Baptists but also made overtures to Socinians. Fuller’s Association was the first Baptist association to oust the Bible as their sole term of reference and, as Spurgeon so clearly criticised, opened their membership to any one who would donate ten shillings or more. The BMS thus became the source of the Baptist Liberalism, the Downgrade Controversy and the sad mess many modern Baptists now find themselves in because they have left the old paths. If any modern student of the Baptists wish to learn what true Baptists teach, they must look to the old men of the old paths like John Gill, Abraham Booth, John Ryland Senior and Joseph Kinghorn.

Andrew Fuller because of his Liberal theology and most questionable politics and attitude to the Indians was fully incapable of doing gospel missionary work in any way and was a millstone around Carey’s strong neck for decades. He was unable to serve even his own church which he left without a pastor for months in the year. Instead, he strove to act as an absentee bishop directing the local churches in Serampore, ordering the experts at the grass roots in his uncouth amateurish way how to boost the Empire and make obedient lackeys of the Indians to serve the politics of the British Raj.

Part One: Preparing the Way

An historical Carey biography still needed

Ever since 1966 when my Professor of Missions at Uppsala, Bengt Sundkler,[1. Author of Missionens Värld, 1963 etc..] presented his students with facsimiles of Carey’s An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen and told us vivid tales of Carey’s forty years in India, I have loved Carey. However, though a Sundkler, a Culross, a Myers, a Pearce Carey, a Jones, a Bullen, a Walker, a George and a Webber have written on Carey, the full, true life of this godly man has still to be portrayed. Carey himself protested that while his work was not yet done and it was far too soon to evaluate the overall impact of his mission, churches, denominations, missionary societies, political parties and philanthropic societies were already inventing ‘lives’ of him which were pure fiction. So too, the story of the Baptist Missionary Society which stood in Carey’s way more than it supported him needs still to be told.

Carey’s home background

William Carey was born in Paulerspury, Northamptonshire on August 17, 1761, the first of Edmund and Elizabeth Carey’s five children. Edmund was a weaver, teacher and the parish clerk. William learned to read, write and study the Scriptures, enjoying Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress at an early age. He was brought up as an Anglican and found Christ in that church under the preaching of Thomas Scott, friend of Cowper and Newton. William’s uncle Peter, a retired soldier, encouraged William’s interest for gardening and foreign countries. William was apprenticed to a shoemaker at the age of 14, a trade which occupied him for the next 28 years.

Though Carey confessed that neither Heaven nor hell interested him, John Warr, a fellow-apprentice and Dissenter, lent him Christian books which prepared him for Scott’s preaching. Thus Carey grew to respect both the Church of England and Dissent. In the days and environment of his youth, the ‘dipped and sprinkled’ to use Cowper’s language, ‘lived in peace’. However, in 1764, six churches joined to form the Particular Baptist Association and by 1779 the Baptists consolidated as an immersionist group but were still divided on the communion issue. Anglican Cowper writes of the great spiritual times he and Newton’s church had with the new Baptist denomination, writing “It was a comfortable sight to see thirteen gospel ministers together. Most of them either preach’d or pray’d and all that did so approved themselves sound in the Word and doctrine, . . . . . I should be glad if the partition wall between Christians of different denominations would every where fall down flat as it has done at Olney.”

Life at Olney and district

Whilst at Olney, Carey was enabled “to depend on a crucified Saviour for pardon and salvation; and to seek a system of doctrine in the Word of God.” He was subsequently baptised by John Ryland Jr. (1743-1825) in the River Nene on October 5 1783. His wife of two years, Dorothy (Dolly) Packet, an Anglican believer, refused to join him. Carey immediately applied for a preaching licence but the church turned him down after a trial sermon in the summer of 1785. By this time Carey was preaching outside of the denomination and had recently accepted a call to Moulton Baptist church on a salary of £12 per year without the blessing and official sanction of his own pastor and church. Carey’s Moulton work was crowned with a number of conversions so a year after his initial disappointment, Carey was accepted with ‘unanimous satisfaction’ for the ministry by the Olney congregation, who, nevertheless placed him on a further year’s probation. Then, on 1 August, 1787, Carey was at last ordained ‘to preach wherever God in his providence might call him’.

In October, 1787, Carey baptised his wife Dolly by immersion. His thoughts were now centred on world-wide evangelism and he was agonised to hear that Baptists were at the rear of such enterprises. Reports of societies for the Indian mission formed by Phillip Jacob Spener (1635-1705) and August Hermann Franke (1663-1727) in Denmark and Germany thrilled Carey as also tales of Count Zinzendorf (1700-1760) and the Moravian missionaries to the Caribbean, North American, Greenland and Abyssinia. Carey also followed the stories of John Elliot’s and David Brainerd’s mission to Native Americans and the Anglican missions to the New World. Gradually. Realising that a missionary, especially one who was prepared to give his flock the Bible in their own language, must be fluent in the Biblical languages, Carey, with Sutcliffe’s help, diligently studied Greek and Hebrew[2. He had begun learning Latin years earlier. ], adding Dutch and French. In 1789 Carey accepted a call to Harvey Lane, Leicester, a large church who gave him a small salary.

Harvey Lane was a den of immorality so he disbanded the church, and drew up a new membership list and the new church grew by leaps and bounds. Only then was Carey inaugurated by John Ryland, Samuel Pearce, Andrew Fuller and John Sutcliffe. During the next Association meeting at Clipstone, Carey, supported by Pearce, put forward his proposals for a foreign mission society. The motion was rejected.

Carey published his Enquiry in 1792 and in the same year again announced his proposals “that a plan be prepared against the next ministers’ meeting at Kettering, for forming a Baptist Society for propagating the gospel among the heathen.” The motion was passed.

The formation of the Mission Society

A meeting at Kettering was held on 2 October with only twelve ministers attending. After initial opposition, Carey eventually persuaded those gathered to form the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel amongst the Heathen with Carey, Sutcliff, Ryland, Fuller and Reynold Hogg as executives. It was founded as a para-church organisation with a limited executive. The members promised £13. 2s 6d in funding. However, once the society was formed, more substantial gifts came in from different denominations around the country. The people of Yorkshire were especially generous and the poor blind Anglican curate of Bradford willingly parted with a guinea on hearing that the gospel was to be spread abroad. His Vicar followed likewise. Many Baptist ministers complained, arguing that the home churches were destitute and ought to be supported with such monies.

The call to India

When John Thomas, a doctor and evangelist in India heard of Carey’s plans whilst on a fund-raising tour to pay off his enormous debts, he asked to join the society, for help with funds and a co-missionary. Andrew Fuller was commissioned to go to London and visit Thomas. Fuller was so thrilled to meet a real live missionary, so, without a word about his many failings, he recommended Thomas as God’s opening door for the society and urged them to back him. Carey volunteered to be the Thomas companion. He claimed that if missionaries were provided with “clothing, a few knives, powder and shot fishing tackle and the articles of husbandry” necessary “to cultivate a little spot of ground just for their support”, they could maintain themselves. Carey had lived simply at home and did not wish to live any finer abroad. Fuller then promised Carey and Thomas they would be soon sent to India without consulting his fellow executives. He now told them “It is a great undertaking, but surely it is right.”

Dolly refused point blank to allow Carey to go. He was in too poor health and she was eight months’ pregnant. Carey’s church also rebelled. Carey’s father said he had gone mad. Dolly then promised to follow her husband in three or four years when their unborn child would be old and strong enough for the exhausting journey. She also said eight-year-old Felix could accompany him.

The valedictory fiasco

Thomas and Carey planned to sail in March 1793. After tearful departures, they arrived at the port to find they had no emigration papers, so Carey decided to travel illegally. Next, Thomas was then arrested and refused permission to leave the country until his debts were paid. The Captain was then ordered to depart without the missionaries. Carey and Felix were now stranded for months with very little money. On 6 May, Dolly was delivered of a healthy child. Carey said he could not visit her and rather meanly that Mrs Thomas, though in bad health was accompanying them. Thomas did not manage to pacify the authorities until 23 May and there was then no chance of obtaining a ship to India. So, Carey returned home to Dolly and promised he would never leave her again. Now Thomas’ positive side rose to the surface. Within a week, he had raised money, found reconciliation with his creditors, found a legal ship to carry them to India and organised the transport of their baggage. On hearing that Carey had given up his missionary plans, Thomas dashed to Carey’s home and pleaded with his whole family so successfully that Dolly relented and agreed to accompany Carey to India with her children and her sister. Now Fuller panicked. The society had no money and Thomas now frightened him. Then Yorkshire and London friends came to the rescue and Thomas quickly found new sponsors and through his enormous energies and powers of persuasion, soon had the party in Dover, ready to board. The new ship booked was, however, nowhere to be seen. The friends hung around for two weeks without adequate money until the belated Danish ship entered the dock. On 15 June she set sail for India with the missionaries and their families safely on board. The time of anxiety and chaos was to end – for a while.

Initial difficulties

As soon as Kron Princessa Maria set her sails, Carey removed his ill-fitting gentleman’s wig and sent it sailing into the brine as a symbol that he would live the simple life of the Indian peasants in order to win them for Christ. Only death would sever him from his new home-country.

Carey used the five months’ journey[3. 13 June -11 November, 1793.] wisely to learn Bengali and as he studied, he used his knowledge of Hebrew to assist Thomas in his Bengali translation of Genesis. The ship’s Captain and owner, a Dane of British stock, commonly called ‘Captain Christmas’,[4. Otherwise J. Smith. ] proved a good and faithful friend. He used his Danish connections to ensure that Carey and his family would be warmly received by the Scandinavians in Bengal. The Captain allowed Carey and Thomas to preach freely on board but the interest shown was minimum. As a Fleming, a Norwegian, a Dane, a German and a Frenchman attended, Carey saw this as the start of his world-wide mission. Storms stopped the ship entering ports on the way so Carey could not send any news to the Society

On arrival in India, the missionary party were by the British authorities that they were unwanted and should return home. Captain Christmas smuggled the party out to Calcutta where the Indians heard Thomas preach the gospel. Carey soon believed that missionaries would be welcomed wherever they went in India. A Swedish missionary, Keiernander, advised Carey to set up his mission outside of British controlled India.

Carey makes himself independent of Society aid

Meanwhile Thomas squandered the £150 for the first year’s expenses by hiring a large city house with servants to ‘keep up appearances’, immediately forcing the mission into debt. Carey begged support from the English Calcutta Christians but they refused because of Thomas’ bad reputation. Carey sought secular employment but was turned down. Mrs Carey became depressive and Felix caught dysentery and appeared to be dying. The kind Indians found a rent-free plot of gardening land in the Sundarbans near Debbatta and Charles Short, an English official gave the Careys accommodation. Carey started growing vegetables, hunting and fishing but Thomas kept making debts. Carey now prospered and hundreds of Bengali’s settled the area around Sundarbans and looked to Carey for leadership. Carey felt that he was living on a bed of roses. Thomas dragged him out of this Garden of Eden as he had persuaded the British officials to give both men posts as indigo producers with a substantial salary, Thomas receiving the larger and Carey the smaller post. Sadly enough, Carey followed his nigh criminal companion. He therefore wrote to Fuller and Ryland:

“I now inform the Society that I can subsist without any further monetary assistance from them. I sincerely thank them for the exertions they have made, and hope that what was intended to supply my wants may be appropriated to some other mission. At the same time it will be my glory and joy to stand in the same near relation to the Society, as if I needed supplies from them, and to maintain with them the same correspondence.”

Carey was now an independent missionary, able like Paul, to earn his own keep and still minister to others.

The Society drifts away from Carey’s Enquiry concept

Meanwhile, the Society was rapidly developing ideas of foreign missions based on Colonial thinking in stark contrast to Carey’s. Fuller was against planting indigenous churches in India, feeling they must be regarded as daughter churches of the para-church Society and entirely under their (his) control, including any monies they raised. Indeed Fuller now imagined that the Society’s Indians would strengthen the East Indian Company and British power in India. Carey had made it clear in his Enquiry that the gospel cannot be divorced from religious and political liberty.

The Society’s New Divinity

So, too, Fuller and Ryland began to depart from the evangelism practiced during the Reformation and Great Awakening and brought in American New Divinity teaching with its high view of man and low view of God. Happily, those who withstood Fuller’s new teaching grew three times greater than the Fullerite churches.[5. From seven in 1830 to 33 in 1870.] Now Fuller allied with the Arminians and opened up membership of the Society to all who could afford the fee. After 1780, the leading Baptist and Anglican magazines warned of the gangrene in Fullerism. Benjamin Beddome said that churches who neglected their own local work were hardly in a position to send out missionaries to do better abroad.

The Society’s reaction to Carey’s letter

When Carey’s letter of independence reached the Society on 5 August, 1794, Abraham Booth declared the end of the Society’s connections with Carey. He had not asked for a permission which they would never give. The Society advised the Committee to drop Carey and India and send ‘real’ missionaries out to Africa. Thomas was not criticised. The Society wrote to Carey, patronisingly condemning his motives as worldly. Carey lovingly replied that he had made it quite clear to the Society that a true missionary should identify himself fully with the country to which he was called and make himself as independent as possible so as not to be a burden on anyone. Carey estimated that the indigo production would only demand his entire energies for three months in the year and even this would not be without his Christian witness. He could then spend the remaining nine months evangelising and teaching. Furthermore, Carey told the committee that thanks to his income he could pay for the printing of the Scriptures in Bengali and Hindustani. He knew they would have to admit that the Society was in no position to pay for the printing themselves. Pierce Carey, William’s great-grandson, argues rightly that if the missionaries had waited for the needed support from the Society, they would have starved. Indeed, the few goods and monies which were being sent to India were taking three years to reach India.

Thomas Shirrmacher, in a rare attempt to outline Carey’s missions theology,[6. Aufbruch zur modernen Weltmission: William Carey’s Missiontheologie.] shows how almost all modern Missionary Societies look back on Carey as their founder but contrary-wise hold to a theology of missions which was never his. Carey obviously stayed initially within the Baptist Society because of close friendship with its committee members, but he emphasised more and more the indigenous nature of his work in contrast to the younger generation of missionaries who had colonial and political ideas abhorrent to Carey and unbecoming to the gospel.

Carey continues doing it his way

Meanwhile, Carey was spending every weekend, several evenings a week and the entire rain period when the factories were closed, walking some 20 miles a day through pathless jungles to preach to the two hundred villages in the Company’s district. By 1795 he could preach at length and the people heard him gladly but they did not, as yet, change their ways. Their centuries-old traditions made them willing to hear but slow to understand and slower still to change. So, too, becoming a Christian for the Bengalis meant being declared casteless and face acute social restrictions. Full members in the small mission church thus remained white but there were a number of conversions amongst the Danes and British. An early convert, Ram Ram Basu, began to live an adulterous life and was convicted of embezzlement. On the positive side, John Fountain arrived from England to join the missionaries. Sadly, Fuller took a strong dislike to Fountain for political reasons, feeling he was disloyal to the British Establishment and his letters to Fountain were full of condemnation with no encouragement in them in support of Fountain’s strong desire to win souls for Christ. Fuller’s interference became so extreme that Carey had to write to Fuller telling him that his aggression against Fountain was ‘near to killing’ the new recruit. Unlike Fuller, Fountain left his politics out of his missionary strategy and Pierce Carey tells us that “Carey was very drawn to him (Fountain), as a true yokefellow.” A Portuguese of independent means from Macao, Ignatius Fernandez, was converted through Thomas’ ministry and joined the missionaries in their work. He assisted in financing many projects and equipped the missionaries with new books and household necessities. At his death, wealthy Fernandez left most of his land and property to Carey’s Mission.

Carey could now preach Bengali more fluent than Thomas and had begun to preach in Hindustani and was also studying Sanskrit believing the language provided a key to Indian cultures, traditions and thought processes. Early in 1797, he revised Thomas’ translation of Matthew, Mark, Luke 1-10 and James and put the finishing touches to the rest of the New Testament, but the printing posed a major problem. Buying type in England was out of the question but his employer, Mr George Udny, generously provided the £46 for a press with vernacular type which was on sale in Calcutta. In 1799, Carey witnessed the horrible scene of a Sati or widow-burning which made him more determined than ever to win the Indians for the gospel. This prompted him to pray more urgently for fellow-workers. In May of that year Carey received a letter, posted over seven months previously, from William Ward who had once met him briefly at Goat Yard Church, Southwark. Ward wrote that he wished to live and die with Carey and was setting out forthwith for India ‘with the others’! Who the others were, he did not say. As the British government had banned missionaries from entering British India, Ward and the others, i.e. the Marshmans, the Grants and Brunsdon, had boarded an American ship bound for Danish Serampore.

The end of the Mudnabati mission

After initial good indigo harvests several lean years followed and Thomas gave up. The authorities reacted by closing both plantations down and the East India Company now believed that the work of the missionaries was counter-productive to their aims in India. All ‘private’ printing presses were outlawed which meant a ban on publishing the Scriptures in British India. Thomas estranged himself from the work of the Mission, becoming increasingly unbalanced. As the new missionaries landed at Serampore and placing themselves under the protection of Denmark, the British authorities immediately demanded that Ward, Grant, Brunsdon and Marshman return to England. They feared that the Danes would fit them out with passports so they could preach unhindered throughout Bengal. The new female missionaries had quarrelled on the way out, the men fell out with one another in Serampore. Grant caught a fever immediately on arriving at Serampore and died. Ward wrote home that Mrs Carey was ‘wholly deranged’.

On the positive side, the Danish Governor of Serampore, Ole Bie, told the British missionaries that they could count on his help. His government, assisted by the Germans, had been supporting Indian missions for over 100 years and Bie had been converted through the testimony of Christian Friedrich Schwartz (1726-1798) of the Halle and SPCK Mission at Tranquebar. Schwartz was instrumental in leading many Indians to Christ and founded a number of indigenous churches and schools in Tamil and Hindi speaking regions. At Tranqebar and Madras, Bibles had been printed in Tamil, Telugi and Hindustani and Bie wanted the same blessing for the Bengalis. So the Governor now asked the British missionaries to help him establish a church, printing press and schools in Serampore. They were fitted out with Danish passports so the British authorities could not hinder them. Bie asked Carey to lead the mission and found schools, translate the Scriptures and preach with no let or hindrance. Denmark’s policy of supporting the evangelizing of the Indians had become a thorn in the flesh to the British who now declared war on Denmark. King Frederick of Denmark, who supported Indian missions and corresponded personally with Carey, Ward and Marshman, refused to surrender Serampore because, in 1801, he had personally promised the missionaries protection and refused to break his word. Protesting strongly at the British East India Company’s inhuman policies in India, Cowper wrote to William Unwin who had the ear of William Wilberforce in Parliament:

…they…have possessed themselves of an immense territory, which they have ruled with a rod of Iron, to which it is impossible they should ever have a right, unless such an one as it is a disgrace to plead, the right of conquest. The Potentates of this Country they dash in pieces like a potter’s vessel as often as they please, making the happiness of 30 millions of mankind a consideration subordinate to that of their own emolument, oppressing them as often as it may serve a lucrative purpose, and in no instance have I heard, consulting their interest or advantage.”[7. Letters and Prose Writings, II, 195. ]

Company Director Charles Grant who had been campaigning for missionaries to India since 1787, advised the English missionaries to remain in Serampore, bought Kiernander’s church building and left a substantial legacy for them at his own death. David Brown, an English chaplain to the East India Company, helped Carey enormously by mediating between them, the police office and the East Indian officials. Carey accepted many English Christian workers and IEC employees into his church which thus became quite an international matter. This angered Fuller because it was done without his permission. He claimed that Carey’s English supporters were not ‘real Christians’, and ordered that the church should be a closed communion of immersionists. Coming from Fuller, this was pure hypocrisy. He had nothing against begging Anglicans, Lutherans and Presbyterians to finance the East India Mission, or give them political support, but he would not have them partake of ‘the cup of blessing’ in the churches they had helped to established and in the church buildings they had provided, paid for and erected. Indeed, Fuller told the Serampore Trio, as they came to be known, that they were following Anti-Christ and fellowshipping with non-Baptists at the Table was as bad as opening all doors to immorality and heresy.

The move to Serampore

Carey took up residence in Serampore on 10th January 1800. The day after he was presented to his sponsor and protector Governor Bie after which he went out and preached to the Indians. George Smith writes that Carey’s apprenticeship was now over and he had begun his full apostolate. From now on, Carey is my favourite missionary.

George Ella


George M. Ella is a historian, author and biographer. His writings may be accessed at the online archived, ”Biographia Evangelica”.

George M. Ella, born February 1939 in Yorkshire, England, has lived most of his life on the European Continent. He is a retired Senior Civil Servant formerly employed in teaching, post-graduate teacher-training, chairing examination boards and curricula work. He holds degrees from London, Hull, Uppsala, Essen, Duisburg and Marburg universities with doctorates in English Literature and Theology. Dr. Ella has written regularly since the seventies for a number of magazines and newspapers and published numerous books on Church History, including biographies of William Cowper, William Huntington, James Hervey, John Gill, Augustus Montague Toplady, Isaac McCoy and Henry Bullinger besides works on doctrine and education. He is currently finishing the third volume of his series 'Mountain Movers'; a biography of John Durie; a work on Law and Gospel and further study material for the Martin Bucer Seminar. Dr. Ella is still internationally active as a lecturer and is a Vice-President of the Protestant Reformation Society. He is keenly interested in missionary work and has written on the spread of the Gospel amongst the Same people of Lapland, the people of India and the Native Americans. This present volume follows Dr. Ella's 'The Covenant of Grace and Christian Baptism', also published by the Martin Bucer Seminar. George Ella is married to Erika Ella, nee Fleischman, a former government administrator, and they have two sons Mark (41), Director of a Polytechnic College in Bremerhaven and Robin (39), Leading Senior Physician in a newly-built Geriatric and Psychiatric clinic in Dessau.

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