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What Does the Kingdom of God Look Like (in Real Life)? PART 4: It Is Good

Galvans&Mathiesons

(from L to R: Gus, Dorothy, George, and Isabel)

Part 4 of 7 in an ongoing series to attempt to answer the question, from my own experience and witness, “What does the Kingdom of God look like (in real life)?.”    

4. (of 7) It is Good

Again, i don’t mean good in the sense that it makes everyone feel nice but good in the sense that the Kingdom of God does right.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, understood in her song to the good King that His Kingdom lifts up the lowly and brings low the lofty (Luke 1:46-55)

It is indeed rare to see good in this broken world.  It is even more rare to meet someone who inhabits the goodness of His Kingdom.  

That is why I have been blessed to have met a woman by the name of Dorothy Mathieson.  We received word that she is dying of cancer and it’s only a matter of days left of her life here on this earth.  Dorothy is a sweet old self-deprecating Australian woman, and she has become like an abuela to many in our community, even though we only spent a short time with her.  

Australia!?!  Yup, that’s right. That’s the kind of influence this woman’s life has.  

Dorothy is so humble it took some work to find out more about her life.  She is so ready to listen to others, shares their stories, and empower them in God’s presence that it’s easy to forget to ask about hers.  Dorothy gave at least 40 years of her life to God’s work: decades in the slums of Manila, Philippines.  Then with international students from countries that want to kill Christians, and then with overburdened and worn out pastors. She was single for much of her life but later in life she met George who had the same heart as her.  She went back to school and, together with George, that’s where she sharpened how to practice the presence of Jesus and hold on to Him through all manner of pain and trauma.  And then she turned around and gave away what she learned.  Through it all she NEVER gave up on Jesus.  

On top of this she was one of the sweetest and most joyful women you’d ever meet, that you’d never know all that she had been through.  She’d seen so much pain and injustice she should have been a bitter old person.  Yet, she chose to let the Prince of Peace rule her.

She taught us how to hold onto Jesus, like koalas from Australia.  She has been instrumental in bringing many key folks in our church community into the presence of Jesus for significant inner healing.  Her ministry has deeply changed the way i mentor, counsel, and disciple people.  She called us in LA’s Eastside, rascals though we are, some of her favorite people.  And made it a point to drop by on her occasional visits to California.  

Anyone that’s met her wants to be like her when they grow older.  I want to be like her when I grow older.  

THAT is what a life immersed in the goodness of the King and the Kingdom looks like. THAT is what it looks like to finish well.  THAT is a life that held onto God’s Kingdom and it made ALL the difference.

Will we walk in the goodness of the Kingdom?  

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What Does the Kingdom of God Look Like (in Real Life)? Part 1: It’s a Treasure Worth ALL

in my last post i shared with you my findings of what the Kingdom of God looks like according to the bible.  i realize that that post title was misleading in that some, including myself, want to know what the Kingdom of God looks like…unfolding in the 21st century, in the here and now…in real life.  my friend A.R. reminded me that those stories would be helpful examples.  with that in mind, i hope to take the 7 aspects of the Kingdom of God i (re)discovered and “flesh them out” with what i have witnessed myself of the Kingdom of God breaking through in our midst.  halfway into drafting the first “story” it dawned on me that this task may be more than 1 post could handle so i plan to publish a total of 7 posts over the course of the next couple months for each principle and its corresponding true story from my experience that illustrates the principle.  

here goes the 1st: so what does the Kingdom of God look like…in real life?  

#1. (of 7) the Kingdom of God is a treasure worth giving up ALL else for

for me discovering the value of the treasure of the Kingdom was a process.  i received the King into my life around 7th grade.  the deeper understanding of the Kingdom and its worth, especially the giving up stuff, came after that.  there have been different things and relationships i’ve had to lay down in order to “seek first the Kingdom” and, i suspect, i will continue to this side of heaven.  

but the most significant thing that comes to mind that God led me to give up, in my journey thus far, was the security of my job.  i was 8 years into my career as a public high school teacher when my wife and i sensed God calling us to move into the inner city for the work of His Kingdom.  it was not a decision we came to easily, but it was confirmed by multiple convictions and events.  we had no idea what this ministry would really look like and what exactly God was calling me into but, one thing was clear, i would have to leave my job and the security my salary represented.  i had to take a step of faith into the unknown because Jesus, my King, was calling me to move out of what was familiar to me.  i put in my resignation at locke high school in the spring of 2011.  i joined an unpaid internship to learn about living amongst the poor that fall.  we found out that my wife was pregnant.  i was unemployed for months and could only find a job as a substitute teacher.  it was a humiliating step down for me who used to be a full time teacher.  

then in the beginning of 2012 i sensed God was calling me to be a pastor of outcasts full-time.  but to be a pastor in the neighborhood i now lived in meant that i would need to fundraise my salary (which at most would only be half of what i was paid as a teacher), not only because our church could barely pay the rent but because anything raised by our church we believe should go to a local leader that is raised up, not a “relocator” like me.  then my father-in-law saw my fundraising letter.   he was furious.  he could not believe what i was doing and what i was about to put his daughter and his grandchild through.  he yelled “are you a beggar?”, “you are a fool to think people would support you in this work!”  needless to say, the Kingdom of God did not feel like a treasure to me at that point.    

so, i prayed, “God, if this is the work you want me to do, please provide the $2000 of monthly support our family needs within the next 6 months.  please vindicate me.”

and He did.  and then some.  

you see, it was not just the money he provided to meet that initial goal  (which God provided within 6 months!) through generous supporters who believed in this work of expanding the Kingdom of God; he was giving me and my family so much more than we had imagined.  what we give up for the Kingdom, we get Kingdom treasure in return.  i had left my locke II community of teachers, one of the most amazing staffs I have EVER had the privilege to work with.  we had left our church community at wlah, who commissioned us with such grace, love, and support (they are still our biggest supporters).  we have now gained spiritual family i never would have gained, if we had clung to our familiar comfort.  spiritual family members that come from different backgrounds, social classes, and races than my family.  spiritual family that prays for us so faithfully and with so much more faith and desperation (with tears) than we have.  spiritual family that God speaks to with things for us that we never even told them.  

you see, we may have thought we were moving into a neighborhood to help those in need but God was moving us into the neighborhood for our growth, for our healing, for our wholeness.  we think we are making a sacrifice to serve others but God uses that process and those in need to turn around and bless us with what no money can buy.  it may not come in the timing or manner that we may expect but, in God’s Kingdom, the blessings go ALL around and are shared with ALL.  

you see, Jesus was telling the truth that what we give up for the Kingdom is not worth comparing to what we gain in the Kingdom.  it is something that rewards “many times more” in this life as well as the life to come…indeed with his Kingdom, we’re still witnessing the treasure unfold.   

nothing that we could ever own nor any intimate human relationship we could ever have surpasses the Kingdom of God in worth.  

Every Tribe and Tongue…

This past month each of our discipleship school students stepped out of fear and into taking risks with and for the Lord to love others.  

There was so much that our Lord showed us on our week long mission trip last week but, for me, there is one lesson that sticks out: EVERY person in Jesus has something to contribute in reaching out to others.  

Our first outreach in Santiago, Dominican Republic was at Leon Jimenez Park.  The outreach small group that I was made in was made up of me, Obadiah* (son of the lead pastor at New Life Church in Lincoln Heights), Anita* from Hope Church (in East LA), Enrique’s (son of the lead pastor at Hope Church) 6 year old son Isais*, and Jonas* a Haitian brother in the Lord from Iglesia Comunidad Multicultural (the host church that led us during our week stay in the DR).

At the park, we came across this young couple that seemed to be having a date.  The woman was a Venezuelan and the man was Dominican and French.  We asked about the young woman about the crisis happening in Venezuela and could tell she was sad with her family still there. Jonas preached and prayed for her to find the hope of God to be lifted up as well as to lift up her town and country.  I got a sense from God for the man that God wanted to fill him up with God’s oil so his light would not go out.  Up to this point the man didn’t really seem that interested but he perked up as Josiah translated some of the words of the image I got into Spanish and asked “How do I get this oil?”  Anitia jumped in to share her story of how she learned that she needed her own personal relationship with Jesus instead of just going to church with her mom.  Isais shared that in prayer he saw a tree made out of the number 3.  The man shared that his favorite number was 3.  This young couple was touched to know that God saw them and knew them.  

But for this moment of the Kingdom of God to break through, it took everyone to contribute: a Japanese-American man, a half-Caucasian half-Chinese teenage boy, a Salvadorian woman, and a half-Caucasian half-Mexican 6-year-old, and a young Haitian man living in the DR to all work together in Jesus.

It was a beautiful glimpse of heaven, where every tongue and tribe will be lifting up Jesus together.  So you see, EVERY person in Jesus has something to contribute.  

We don’t need to wait till we get there…may we practice that good of eternity today.  

 

unity-hands1

*names changed for privacy 

Our sister church that hosted us in the Dominican Republic is doing such amazing work in their community.  One of which is their building of community center (we got to pray at the site of the foundation that is already being built) which will provide a place for a school for the many Haitian children who are not allowed in public schools in the DR!  Please consider investing in the Kingdom of God in this way!  

I pray that we all follow Jesus into putting ourselves out there this day with His love.

From Chola to Christ

i realize a lot of my posts on this blog have been theological in nature, especially as of late.  I do see the great need for more holistic theology but i also realize there is a need for more concrete examples of what that theology looks like played out in the lives of real people around me.  in my study of the Kingdom of God, i see that in scripture there is not only a proclamation of the good news of the Kingdom of God but a demonstration of the gospel of the Kingdom of God.  the world is hungry not for more people who “talk the talk” but for more of those who “walk the walk.”  

one thing i have learned by living amongst the urban poor in LA is the power of stories to draw people into an experience of a truth. it is something that those of us who are “educated” or from a middle or upper class background can come to underestimate when we are too much in our own heads, experiences, and theories.  with this in mind, moving forward and as i am able, i hope to share more stories of God working in and through the “least of these.”  or, if you will, for these truths of God’s kingdom to “take on flesh” (adapted some from the monthly updates i send to my supporters.  feel free to email me at david dot kitani at servantpartners dot org if you’d like to receive these monthly updates).  with that said, i’d like to share with you a story of a sister in Jesus from “the hood” that i’ve gotten the pleasure to get to know more through the discipleship school that i help run at our church.  she inspires and challenges me in fresh way.  

ls

 

irene* was basically raised by the streets of los angeles. she was a hardcore “chola” gangster that has been notorious in our neighborhood.  she has been in and out of prison and has had multiple near death experiences.  she swears like a sailor, she’s straight up, and she is known to instill fear in people (and strangely enough she’s found my wife to be a kindred spirit ;).  but God’s hand is on her life.  she’s been wanting to join our discipleship school for a while.  we had our reservations but it was clear God was directing her this way.  

and it’s been amazing.  

she’s talked about Jesus to friends and family a lot before but now she is starting to submit her life to Jesus’ Lordship.  people are noticing.  in the middle of a family birthday party her hardened adult niece, struggling with leukemia, challenged irene to pray her.  irene reluctantly did.  then irene “got touched” (her word for crying when she feels the presence of God, because she rarely allows herself tenderness) and her niece was moved.  so moved that she dragged irene to pray for her mom too.

irene was baptized this past april along with her daughter who has been moved by the change she sees in mom.  irene, me, the rest of the d-school, and some of our children are going to head to the dominican republic to our sister church there (the same one we went to last year) to see and participate in His Kingdom come across the sea in a couple weeks from 6/16-6/23/17.  we need to raise $31,000 as a team of 21 people.  

once irene heard the challenge for us to fundraise for the mission trip (and in her case not just for her but for two of her own children she is bringing along), this former gang member stepped out with incredible faith.  she randomly asks folks that she comes across to “sponsor” her mission trip…she’s gotten donations from her husband’s supervisor, the pest control man in her building, and even a random person from georgia that she emailed through craigslist (please, i didn’t tell students to do this)!  last week she asked her insurance agent to support the mission trip and he broke down and asked for prayer for his twin brother (who was standing right next to him) who is going through health issues.  she prayed for them right there in the office.

this past tuesday we went out in the neighborhood to offer to pray for folks at a local park.  she challenged me with her boldness to offer to pray for people and even reminded me to “go for it” when i was hesitant in approaching some.  through our time praying for people together a women felt the “warmth” of God as irene prayed for her breathing issues and another woman was completely healed of knee pain from her chemotherapy (from pain level 8 to 0!).  this woman was so shocked and full of joy as she was moving her leg back and forth.  irene found herself hugging these strangers, something she would never have done before!

irene’s faith, and folks such as these in our working class community, puts me to shame.  irene not only knows the King but is now submitting herself to His Kingdom…and its awe-inspiring!  

 

if you want to join in on this work God is doing in and through the urban poor donate here toward their mission trip and don’t miss out on the Kingdom breaking through right in our midst!

 

*name changed to protect privacy

To My Sons On Their 5th and 3rd Birthdays

fishys

AMOS

Happy be-lated 5th birthday my first born!  You are so peculiar in your interests, but that’s what makes you, you (and more interesting, as your mommy would say).  You’ve moved on from your love of cactus and mannequins to an obsession with sweets and baked goods.

  • You eat them with such relish (one of my top highlights with you that I can remember is when you came with me to “help” me shop at Costco and I got you that frozen yogurt swirl for us to “share” that you love and you would keep smiling so deeply as you shivered, made funny faces, and gorged yourself).
  • You would ask after every meal time if there would be any “special treats” (that your mom and I try to limit to one serving every couple days).
  • You borrow dessert cook books en-masse from frequent trips to the library (and were so excited to discover that the adult section cookbooks had far superior pictures than then the children’s section).
  • You draw desserts with impressive design and detail and were even inspired to make a dessert cookbook by writing out the names of all your favorite dishes (brilliant move by mommy by the way to practice your letters).

I know it hasn’t been all sweet though.  I know we’ve been hard on you and Daddy has gotten so mad at you more times than I like to admit. To be honest it scares me how much the negative aspects of my relationship with my dad comes out.  It’s also scary and humbling to me to see how much you’re like me in my brokenness. I’m sorry Amos.  I hope you can forgive daddy.  I know you’re trying to listen and be a good brother.  I’m trying to learn to be a better daddy from our Heavenly Father.  I want to learn to be present to you, not just functional.  I want to learn to take time to enjoy the moment, not just impatiently wanting you to move on my timetable.

I love the silly faces you make and your intense funky dancing.  I love the way you take your time to wonder at the beautiful things in this world.  I love the way you notice the details in things that most people look right past.  I love you.

NATHAN

Happy early 3rd birthday my chubby cutie.   I am so blessed by your generous spirit and your smiling eyes (that you’ve inherited from your mommy).   Through you we’ve learned that each child is so different, even though I don’t think mommy and daddy have raised you any differently.  As opposed to Amos, who is into things that are still, you are all about movement.

  • You love dinosaurs, monster trucks, cars, planes, animals: in that order.
  • You are always busy talking about things that move, moving the things that move, moving around from toy to toy, from activity to activity.
  • You are a workout to dress and undress as you frequently just want to run around “may-ked” (aka naked) as you say.
  • Your nose is frequently flowing with some sort of ooze.
  • You carry around your muslin towel everywhere frequently stepping on it as you go.
  • You easily make friends and just as easily are fine without them

Mommy and I joke that you are 90% joy and 10% rage (which we say comes from your mom).  When you get into one of your moods, usually if you are under-slept and often for the most ridiculous requests…like insisting that we read you a book WHILE you sit on the toilet, there is no consoling you.  We don’t give in but we let you chill out.  And then you’re back to your happy go lucky self.  My prayer for you is that you would learn to communicate what’s really going on for you beneath even what you are saying.

I love the way you freely and more easily adjust to your brother’s demands.  You are often the first to share.  I love the way you just light people up by just being you whether its singing ONE line of a Christmas song repeatedly in the middle of summer, or when you roar at people and are simultaneously afraid of the very things that roar, or when you wake up at the crack of dawn and tell me “Daddy, let’s wake up”, or when you just randomly come up and hug me and say “I love you Daddy”.  You are a precious gift from God that reminds me He just gives us joy whether we deserve it or not.

How Two Girls of Another Culture Became Like Daughters to Me

i got to know naomi* and her sister, mary*, since they came to our youth group years ago as middle schoolers.  naomi had a feistiness that covered up her deep insecurities.  mary was soft-spoken and terribly shy.  over the years of youth group meetings, retreats, outings, supporting their dance performances, car conversations driving to youth meetings and back home, they made their way into my heart and the hearts of all the youth leaders.  the faithfulness and courage that they’ve shown, each in their unique ways, have been such bright spots for us.  it has been a privilege to witness the deep love that Jesus has for them.  it has been amazing to see them come out of their shells to embrace Jesus and courageously shine His light to their friends.  because of them, our church youth group has more than doubled in size from when they first started coming to our church.  

they are now in their senior year of high school.  naomi is class president at her school and mary is one of the few teens my wife and I trust to be alone with our children.  needless to say I am so proud of them.  

they have become like daughters to me.  

they are undocumented immigrants.

naomi and mary were born in juarez, mexico, a place notorious for the disappearance and murder of women.  their father left them at a young age, other tragedies befell their siblings, and their mother sought work and a better life in the u.s. bringing them over with her.  but life in america was not easy.  naomi recounts

“I would watch my mom struggle and get angry. In her moods she would say ‘Estudia para no ser como yo.’ Which translates into ‘Study, so you won’t end up like me.’ That’s when I decided that her work would not be in vain, I would not embarrass her nor diminish her efforts.”

both naomi and mary have worked hard in school and have applied (and been accepted) to universities.  It breaks my heart to see the heightened fear they must now live in with the news of recent policies and practices of the immigration and customs enforcement, intensified under the current administration.   i can’t imagine how their mother is feeling right now.  

nevertheless, i know that, in Jesus, fear is not the end of the story.  

Jesus’ love drives out fear.  yes, we should do our part to educate ourselves and others on the issues.  yes, we should equip ourselves and our undocumented immigrant neighbors with resources to protect them.  but if i am to love them as my neighbors, as my daughters, as myself…it also means that i must walk with them in the love of Jesus, even if the path is now longer and scarier then we would prefer.  we do not fear for He is with us.

*names have been changed to protect identities

5 Reasons We Should Defend Undocumented Immigrants as Christians

First off, what I am NOT saying is that a complete open border policy is necessarily the best way to go nor that we should blindly defend those that intend harm (as it regards immigrants, actually, the opposite is true in comparison to native born folks).  Let us consider that if a stranger came to our home most of us would first want to make sure they are not there to harm anyone.  

But what I AM saying is that once we know their intent is not harm, if we are to be good neighbors, we ought to welcome them as we would want to be welcomed (as we work toward immigration and policy reform that reflects this spirit).  i would like to submit to you 5 reasons why we should seek to defend undocumented immigrants, especially if we call ourselves followers of Jesus. :

1) Jesus challenges us to welcome the stranger as we would welcome Him (Matthew 25:35)

There is a wealth of scriptures (from the law, from the narratives, from the writings, from the prophets, from the gospels, and even from the epistles) regarding the foreigner/immigrant that would make us think we ought to err on mercy over judgement.  Jesus’ very identity is intimately tied up with the foreigner that to reject the foreigner is to reject him.  the biggest, irony is that we ourselves were foreigners (unless you’re a Jew, which i’m assuming you’re not), enemies even, to God’s chosen people but were given the grace of being included in the family of God.  To be unmerciful to the foreigner is a deep hypocrisy we must keep in check as believers in Jesus (let alone as citizens of the U.S. with it’s troubling origins. R.C.W., W.H.*).  

2) Yes, we ought to submit to the government for they have been put in place by God. However, there is ONE case that trumps that verse, which is when the law of the land goes against the law of God who is the ultimate law giver.

In the case of our 45th president and his administration, they are going against God’s commands to defend the most vulnerable of our neighbors (Deuteronomy 24:14, Zechariah 7:10, Matthew 25:31-46) and instead are insulting them and enacting laws against them.

Please understand that by dissent, I do not mean violent resistance but rather civil protest.  The early church was not a stranger to civil disobedience, when it went against God’s conscience, as many were willingly arrested and even killed for their stances.  Let us not forget, the person who wrote that verse about submitting to the government, Paul the Apostle, was in PRISON when he wrote that very verse because he would not submit to the governing authorities to be silent about his faith.  Jesus himself confronted even the establishment of the temple (read church) authorities, over their corruption with money at the expense of making a way for the marginalized to worship, and he made quite a scene about it too (one of the few times in scripture where we see Jesus ANGRY is quite telling).  

3) Yes, people ought not cut in “line” to get in to the country but this is based on the assumption there is a “line” for those who are poor.

It seems from our current immigration policy (even before no. 45) this is not the case.  As of right now, the only ways you can enter the country to become a legal permanent resident (i.e. get a green card) are:

A) employment (i.e. You are invited in by an employer, most often does not apply to “unskilled” work of those who are poor.)

B) family (You have an immediate blood relative that is a citizen or permanent resident.  However, the sponsoring family member must demonstrate that they have the financial resources above the poverty line to support these family members coming in for which there is already a limit.  And even if this is approved the process can literally take decades, especially if you are from a poor country in which case waiting is particularly a luxury you cannot afford when your survival is on the line.  For more detail on what B might look like see this article by an immigration lawyer. S.W.P.*)

C) diversity lottery (Only applies if you are from a country that does not have very many immigrants in the U.S.  This leaves out many of our poor neighbors.)

D) refugee of persecution (Under the current administration these are being pushed to be more rarely granted and even before this administration there has been a HEAVY 20 step vetting procedure ALREADY in place.  Often refugee status is dependent on the type of relationship and interest the U.S. has with a given country and does not include fleeing from home country due to famine, natural disasters, or dire economic circumstances.)

For further and more comprehensive discussion on immigration policy I have found the book Welcoming the Stranger to be immensely helpful (written by two authors: Jenny Hwang, a director of advocacy and policy of the Refugee and Immigration Program of World Relief, AND Matthew Sorens, a Board of Immigration Appeals – accredited Immigration and Citizenship Legal Counselor at World Relief).   

4) The hands of the U.S are not clean regarding their role in these very countries, crisis, and conditions that gave rise to the need to emigrate.

Specifically regarding many of our neighboring Latin American brothers and sisters, the U.S. has been involved in the violence of supporting military juntas in civil wars to drug trafficking in these countries fueled by the U.S. demand for illegal drugs to the U.S. war on drugs that went into these countries (without supporting reconstruction efforts)  to exporting gang members into these countries ill equipped to handle them (K.C.*).  

Certainly, individual responsibility is important and even in terms of governmental responsibility the U.S. is not the only ones to bear that burden. But it is morally irresponsible of the U.S. to shift blame solely on the immigrant, especially onto the children and families fleeing the violence, when the U.S. has been complicit in contributing to these issues.  It is sobering to consider that one of the few clear instances in scripture of the case for a greater weight of sin is how it is heavier upon those in leadership.  It’s not going to be easy but if we have made such a bed we must work together to sleep in it.  

 

5) The unjustified and inhumane way the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement are going after folks with NO criminal records.

According to a recent Washington post article covering raids that happened this past week, “The raids, which officials said targeted known criminals, also netted some immigrants who did not have criminal records, an apparent departure from similar enforcement waves during the Obama administration that aimed to just corral and deport those who had committed crimes.”  However, with some fact checking (thanks to Dr. Ji Son) it turns out that the actions of ICE were worse than we thought.  An analysis by the New York Times in 2014 revealed that since Obama became president, “two-thirds of the nearly two million deportation cases involve people who had committed minor infractions, including traffic violations, or had no criminal record at all.”  Although the intent of the previous administration may have been better, the devil was in the details of the local execution of these policies, with devastating (S.C.*) results.  

There is little to no due process (precisely because their status makes them vulnerable to exploitation, S.C.*) or concern for tearing them away from family to a different country (something we don’t even do to our worst criminal offenders).  Let alone, that what counts as “criminal” can change depending on jurisdiction area (S.C.*) and as such can include violations and misdemeanors (including traffic violations), and broad definitions of “aggravated felony” (which includes even “filing a false tax return”).

Let us examine any prejudice within our hearts toward the immigrant and rid ourselves of the unfounded fears and lies concerning the immigrant who contribute to our communities. We as Christians have a responsibility to stand up for the most vulnerable coming from the most vulnerable situations.  In addition to deep 2 Chronicles 7:14 prayers, here is one more way to defend the undocumented immigrant.  Jesus advocated for us when we were defenseless.  Let us be merciful as Christ has been merciful to us.  

*thank you to my friends over at the Progressive Asian American Christian group.  Although I may not agree with everything that is said in the group (as is hard to say with anyone in a group that large), you’ve provided significant insight and perspective into this issue that has been helpful.