Editor's Note: The short film accompanying this story, called "My Garden," comes from EdsStory.com. CNN.com is premiering the latest installment in the "Ed's Story" series.
By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) – Ed Dobson is not afraid of dying. It’s the getting there that really scares him.
A former pastor, onetime Christian Right operative and an icon among religious leaders, Dobson has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. When he was diagnosed, doctors gave him 3 to 5 years to live.
That was 11 years ago.
“I am a tad happy to be talking to you right now,” joked Dobson, whose voice has deteriorated since his preaching days, in a phone interview. Speaking with him feels like being exposed to a brief moment of clarity. He speaks slowly, but with an understated confidence and authority.
As pastor at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a position he held for 18 years, Dobson would regularly preach to 5,000 people or more on Sundays. Back then, Dobson said he looked at himself as a man filled with lessons, proverbs and, most of all, answers.
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After retirement six years ago, the massive crowds went away.
“I went from 100 miles an hour to zero miles an hour overnight,” Dobson said. “That was a shock to my system.”
Dobson says the answers vanished with the crowds.
“I know that sounds a bit lame,” he said. “I know that that I should have all the answers, but the truth is, the more I live, the fewer answers I have.”
And yet the people Dobson comes in contact with – those who call him dad, husband and friend, or those who have read one of his 12 books and watched his short films, don’t agree with that assessment. To them, the last six years of Dobson’s life have led to a remarkable ability to put life into context. To them, Dobson is a man filled with lessons.
From 5,000 to 1
In the 1980s, Dobson rose to prominence as an executive at the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell's evangelical political organization, which had influence with the Ronald Reagan White House. Dobson’s rise continued when he accepted the pastorate at Calvary Church in 1987. He cut a national profile, with Moody Bible Institute naming him “Pastor of the Year” in 1993.
After being diagnosed with ALS, Dobson suddenly felt unsure of himself. At times, he said, he didn't want to get out of bed. After years of intense Bible study, Dobson said this is not how he thought he would react to news of his own mortality.
“I thought that if I knew I was going to die, I would really read the Bible and if I really was going to die, I would really pray,” Dobson said. “I found the opposite to be true. I could barely read the Bible and I had great difficulty praying. You get so overwhelmed with your circumstances, you lose perspective.”
Eventually, Dobson regained perspective. But feelings of listlessness led him to take his preaching to a more personal level. He now meets with congregants one-on-one. Sitting with them in their homes or offices, Dobson provides whatever help he can. “Most of the people I meet with have ALS and basically I listen," he said.
“When I meet with someone and look into their eyes, it is like I am looking into their soul,” Dobson said. “We are both broken, we are both on the journey and we are both fellow pilgrims.”
Going from 5,000 congregants to one at a time was a big change for Dobson, forcing him to reevaluate his job as a pastor. “I am trying to learn that one-on-one is just as important as speaking to thousands,” he said. “I reemphasize – I am trying to learn that.”
During his one-on-one meetings, Dobson says he remembers Adam and Eve being charged by God to work the Garden of Eden. For years Dobson’s garden was Calvary Church – the baptisms, weddings, the Sunday preaching.
“Whether it is preaching to 5000 or meeting one on one, I am trying to take care of the garden,” he said.
The wind knocked out
One way Dobson strove to tend the garden is by writing a book about dealing with serious illness. In 2007, he wrote “Prayers and Promises When Facing a Life-Threatening Illness.”
Dobson’s son Daniel read the book while deployed in Iraq. After returning home, Daniel made it his mission to turn the book’s stories into videos.
He pitched the idea to Steve Carr, the executive director of a faith-focused production company called Flannel. “When I met Ed, when he came to our office, something really spoke to me,” Carr said. “Not too long before that, I had been diagnosed with Leukemia.”
“I thought that this guy, he has been where I am right now and he has somehow mastered it,” Carr said.
So far, Flannel has released five Dobson films, available through the company's website. There are plans for two more. Though the films range in topic, from loss and forgiveness to healing and growth, all are centered on lessons Dobson learned through his battle with ALS. The videos toe the line between a dark look at a dying man's life and an uplifting glimpse at someone who exudes clarity.
"My Garden," the most recent title in the series, centers on Ed’s struggle to deal with ending his preaching career.
Dobson talks about the films as if they are his swan song, his last words of encouragement to a group of supporters he has inspired for decades.
“My desire is that people who have had the air knocked out of them, whether divorce or losing a loved one or illness, that they will get a sense of hope by watching the films,” he said.
Surviving (with help)
The series’ first short film opens with Dobson explaining what it was like to be told he had ALS. After lying in bed, Dobson gets in the shower, brushes his teeth and starts the day. Even he would admit, however, it is not that easy.
Dobson has lost much of the function in his hands and is seen struggling to brush his teeth, his frail body using two hands on the small brush. Though he is able to do a lot, including drive, Dobson wouldn’t be able to make it on his own, a fact he is keenly aware of when about when describing his wife, Lorna.
“She is my right hand, my left hand, my left foot, my right foot, my heart and my brain,” Dobson said. “Without her, it would be impossible to go on.”
Standing in the kitchen in one video, Lorna helps puts Ed’s belt and gloves on. The two don’t speak on camera, but their love is obvious.
“Our love has grown each year of marriage,” Lorna said. “I didn’t want to just wither in the sorrow of how our life was changing. It took a while to get used to what our life was going to be like but I realized that I needed to be more available to him.”
Dobson says he is also more available to her.
“I am no longer a preacher,” said Dobson. “Today, I would say I am a Jesus follower. Period.”
Lorna said she continues to learn from her husband. Throughout their life together, she said she learned by being in church with him, by raising three kids together and by loving one another.
The last 11 years, however, their love has changed. Dobson's illness has taught her to focus on the important things, she said, primarily their kids and five grandkids.
After tending the garden for decades, Dobson is now being tended himself, largely by Lorna. “ALS forced me into a situation where I grew in understanding of what it means to obey Jesus,” Dobson said in the latest film.
“It took me quite a while to find an alternative purpose," he said. "But the good news is out there – there is a purpose for everyone.”
God's strength is made perfect in our weakness
Unless one of the aspects of our weakness is the gullibility to believe in the supernatural, right? If we're really that weak, then it's all the more likely that we were easily fooled into believing that there is a God greater than us. If you are trying to make the case for believing in God based on our poor judgment skills then that's a conclusion that you simply can't avoid.
i got no problem with a person believing in "god" if it helps them deal with whatever they have to deal with. what i find amusing, though, is the hubris of those who claim they know the mind of god to the extent they preach it...as if they were some f***ing authority
"I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do because I notice it always coincides with their own desires." – Susan B. Anthony
The Bible says mans righteouness is like filthy rags,we all for short of the Glory of God.
The Bible says Mercy rejoiceth against judgement.
I think we should pray for him to find peace and contentment and to keep up the good work.
The book of James says Faith without works is dead as so the body without the Spirit is dead;
You show me your Faith without works and i will show you my Faith with works;
i do not know this man but my bet hes going to Heaven.Thank You JESUS
The bible also says that if you have the faith of a mustard seed you can move mountains. Surely this man has enough faith to heal himself. If he doesn't why should anyone respect him on matters of faith?
Kinda proud of the 'works' you have to go with that faith of yours, aren't ya?
"People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,"
2 Timothy 3:2
The bible also talks about dragons and unicorns.
.......ooooh...the bible....nothing as convincing as translated, edited, iron age hearsay
And it talks about talking snakes and talking donkeys.
I wonder how many of the 5,000+ people he ministered to are now helping him and his family. During difficult times, you really find out who your friends are. And many times, they are not church people, famous people, rich people, beautiful people. They may be strangers, ordinary people with no outward beauty, but who see a need and reach out to fill it.
I would say that that's a life lesson a lot of us learn too late in life.
An equally important question is whether people realize what crappy friends they've been to various people throughout their lives. People are very selfish and they carry that selfishness with them to the grave. For every reader here: what have you done for someone else today? Anything positive at all?
ask not what your friend can do
I wonder how many of the self-righteous end up regretting before they die all of the harm they've done to non-Christians and supposed "sinners" throughout the years?
And [mention] Job, when he called to his Lord, "Indeed, adversity has touched me, and you are the Most Merciful of the merciful." (21:83)
And remember Our servant Job, when he called to his Lord, "Indeed, Satan has touched me with hardship and torment." (38:41)
If this gentleman who is dying truly believed what the Bible says especially being a pastor John says in John 5:28,29 that the dead will be ressurected and that he is promised an opportunity to live forever on a paradise earth. Ps 37:9,10,11 and especially 29. Then he would probably not feel the way he does about his death...
Maybe he realises that the bible was written by man, translated countless times, and abused by those with power, to get more power.
I dislike most religions, because so many are brainwashed by the various books, and seem to forget that nothing else but being a good person matters. That's all. This is what Ed does. Be a good person, that's it.
Be a good person, but suppress your se.xuality if you happen to be gay. That's what Ed teaches, isn't it?
I rest my case in when I say that most people quote bible verses waaaayyyy out of context. And you just quoted good, but random verses that don't have anything to do with this topic. I totally agree with the verses you quoted, but not for this article's topic. When you read the whole chapter 31 or the entire book of Numbers, we can then discuss those verses. But just so you know again, I totally agree with those verses.
Someone may believe he or she is going to heaven, but that doesn't mean it's true. The bible teaches that we must always test ourselves to make sure we are in the faith. And to be in the faith, there must be evidence of it. Because someone can tell you that they are an architect, but give you no evidence whatsoever in their lifestyle that they are. Evidence in one's life, my friend, is what makes faith true faith.
smh at these comments,
Many people hate Christianity because they think it sucks to be moral and to treat women with respect and to meet the needs of the poor and to care for the sick and to not commit adultery and to not steal and to not lie and to not cheat on their taxes, etc. etc. They don't like the message so they deride the message and take shots at people who try to live the life. Pretty easy for the critics to do.
The problem with your thesis is, that Christianity is the only religion that promotes moral behavior. The very behavior you berate is committed each day by so call Christians. All any religion needs or no religion at all, is to promote love, compassion, and forgiveness.
I don’t know any one that hates Christianity because it pays lip service to ethical behavior. I’ve known many non Christians and non religious people who behave ethically. I’ve also known many Christians that were SOB’s. And just look at how badly televangelists behave
Personally I hate religion for all the harm it does to rational thinking and all the horrible, arbitrary and senseless religious rules they want to enshrine in civil law. And no I’m not talking about ethical behavior; I’m talking about stuff like teaching intelligent design in science classes or reinstating mandatory prayer in school.
Most likely, the people who end up hating Christianity do so because some Christians take their certainty that they are right as licence to behave in ways that are actually appalling to the rest of us. Calling people immoral just because they don't share your exact same faith, for example, or denying people their fair civil rights. We do value many of the same virtues as you, but some of your values are hopelessly outdated, and should never be placed over everyone living in a modern society.
I guess the christian definition of respect for women is different than what most women consider respect: Equality and the understanding that a woman is wise enough to control her own fertility and life.
I guess christians equate bigotry with virtue, considering how so many churches treats gays and lesbians.
I guess you don't count it when a christian cheats on their taxes, like Jim Bakker did, or or on their wives, like Newt Gingrich has, repeatedly, because they are christians. I guess when a preacher murders his wife, like Arthur Schirmer in Pennsylvania, its okay, because he respected her.
Your post is laughably ignorant. Try to do some research before casting that first stone.
The Bible was written by men so, of course, they have a man's opinion of what's good for women, just as it has a straight man's opinion of what's good for gays, and a believing man's opinion of what's good for non-believers. It never occurred to these guys to actually ask women, gays, and non-believers what they want, or what they think is fair for them.
In a way its good to know that all the haters on this page will also die, probably before the rest, Hate kills, and thats fine with me.
That's a pretty hateful thing to say. What happened to "Father, forgive them.."?
Life kills whether you hate or don't.
By 'haters' who do you mean? Non-believers? Christians? Both?
I'm curious about the data. How do you define "Haters". A lot of christians define haters as "people who don't believe exactly the same thing they do". Is that your interpretation as well?
And where do you get the numbers about "haters" dying sooner than the non-haters (I guess the non-haters would be christians, though honestly, I've never encountered so much hate as I have from the christians on this blog).
Please try to back up your statement with solid, verifiable data. Otherwise, I'll be forced to conclude that you are maliciously making things up, which, to put it bluntly, is lying.
It seems like all that it takes is to say that you think Christians are wrong about something to get labeled a "hater" by some, which is certainly not a standard that they hold themselves to.
Prayer changes things .
Two very strongly worded yet completely ungrounded statements. Probably impresses the heck out of like-minded unquestioning believers.
An interesting advertising slogan. I wonder if it will some day become as popular as these slogans?
“Reach out and touch someone.” AT&T
“Ah, Bisto!” Bisto
“The quicker picker-upper.” Bounty
“A little dab'll do ya.” Brylcreem
“Have it your way.” Burger King
“Where do you want to go today?” Microsoft
“It's Miller time!” Miller
“It's everywhere you want to be.” Visa
“Drivers wanted.” Volkswagen
Why all the hatreful mean comments? Christians have as much right to their beliefs as non-Christians do.
Want a real entertaining read? Take a look a look back at this entire discussion, and you'll find that the Christians are more than keeping up on the hate card.
What hate? Is the best way to load dead atheists on a cart still pitch forks?
@ Enjay Sea – how do you know they are Christians instead of CINOs? Hate talk does give real Christians a bad name, but only if they are real Christians according to John chapter 3. :)
Yes they do, and I support that. It’s Christians try to force their religious rules on the rest of us non Christians that I hate
Ask the hateful folks who call themselves Christian if they see themselves being in line with John 3, and they'll likely turn around and accuse you of being the false Christian. How is anyone else to judge? I'd like to believe that there are Christians out there with the conviction to deny the haters giving their religion a bad name, but I sure don't see very many brave enough to do so here. Usually, then, it's up to us, but by us confronting them, aren't we doing the work that you 'real' Christians ought to be doing?
The Bible actually warns of people like this, doesn't it?
"1 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping."
2 Peter 2:1-3 (NIV)
Come on people, if you have a kinder, gentler vision of your faith then do something to make it happen yourselves!
It must be a sign... that I shouldn't be wasting this much time on this web site, I guess.
Nooo!! Please don't leave!
Did CNN change some rules? My posts are not processing the way they used to. (and no, it's not the robo-censor)
Well. that worked?!? (sort of)
Wow, I think my normal email address has be blocked from posting.
CNN works in mysterious ways
LOL Too true.
I think WordPress is revising their site, and how it processes posts. One of the strangest things appears to be with the phrase "wonderful us". It is treated differently every time it is used, or so it seems (luckily there aren't very many uses for it). The regular anti-censorbot measures don't work on it.
@LinCA, I just read some of your blog postings. I particularly enjoyed, "True Story". Thanks.
Christians love the babble because they can pretty much interpret it to say anything they want. Then they pull the "true christian" card on those "other" christians who don't agree with their personal interpretation.
An extremely vauge, old, hate filled story book with hundreds of contradictions..... written by "almighty god"?
The babble....a book for the delusional or those with an inabiliy to accept their own mortality.
Ironically, your comment sounds a bit babbling
From your post, don't you thnk you may be the one who is 'hate-filled'. Why do you hate God and the Bible and Christians? Especially since this God you dislike is your Creator and He LOVES you, even if you reject Him, He continues to LOVE you and wait for you to acknowledge His existence.
The Dolt Theorem of Atheism
If there was a good G.od(Not the Afri.ca.n animist one but the X'tian one) there will be no s.uff.erin.g because Go.d im.po.ses His will on Man.
Wrong. MAN is resp.onsi.ble for his own sins. He has a will to ch.oo.se and acc.ep.t eit.her Go.d or E.vil.
Hey Nilly crock...... you really should work on forming an intelligible sentence before posting on a blog.
I don't think that's the point at all, but if you follow that logic, "man is responsible for his own sins" meaning he must be in some way responsible for his own suffering, it follows then that if god made man capable of sinning he is ultimately responsible for their actions, therefore their suffering as well. Alternatively, the choice given by this god, accept me or suffer is not a choice one would expect from a loving and self-secure god.
I can tell you as a realist, I do not hold to the belief that if there were a god, there would be no suffering. In fact I allow for the possibility of a god. I personally have not seen any evidence that makes god more of a possibility than fairies and I have seen plenty of evidence to support science over fairy tales. My question is always, assuming god does exist, why would any sane person choose to follow such a tyrant? One cannot square the disparities of a loving god capable of such atrocities mentioned in the bible.
Actually, I'm an atheist because there isn't a shred of proof for any of the thousands of gods that humanity has created, worshiped, replaced or rejected throughout history, even the christian god. I think after 2000 years of no evidence, rational people can conclude that christianity is a myth, like Mithras, or Zeus or Osiris.
But if pretending your own theory is the truth makes you happy, you just go on ahead. Of course that means you're lying. I don't understand why you christians think it's okay to completely ignore one of your own Ten Commandments. I guess it's easy to ignore your responsibility to your god when all you're really interested in is the reward.
Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.
The 30% (or less) of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.
For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".
Current RCC problems:
Pedophiliac priests, an all-male, mostly white hierarchy, atonement theology and original sin!!!!
Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).
Angry much? WOW
reality does not think for itself all reality posts are copy paste of some other fools work hit report abuse on all reality garbage
Gotta love the tolerance of the beliefs of others.
'Reality' you are living in a fake bubble. It'll burst soon and you'll know the truth. Whether you believe in Him or not, Jesus exists, whether you like it or not He is God.
God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist whether you in your minute capacity as man created by the Great Creator who called the unverse to exist by speaking 'Let there be...' choose to acknowledge Him or not. See God is not a bad dream that you can wish away. He is. He was. And He is to come.
@Mom of 4, Tolerance and respect are not in the const.itution. You are given the right to practice your religion as we are given the right to condemn it.
The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians of the past 200 years)
Should I believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven??
I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)
Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,
He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.
(references used are available upon request)
Lovely watch and some nice insight, though a little depressing.
Some of your answers are not really honest. I mean sometimes it fun to be funny or make wisecracks but this was more of a real discussion today. You make accusations that I am arrogant because I am a witness? Or to prove what I know? Do witnesses have to prove anything or just witness? I am thankful this is a free country basically created and designed by christians and biblical truths and they purposely did not make christianity a national religion because we have God given choices to make and freewill and they protected it. But I can see persecution will come to this country to the christians. I can see the fires lit in some of the comments today. Away with him away with him crucify him crucify him. Except it won't be Jesus this time it will be your neighbor and brother and people like me because evil always wants to silence the truth and hope that it will go away. The nazi's covered their eyes and ears don't do the same.
I, for one, have never asked you to PROVE what you think that you know.
I have asked for EVIDENCE, there is a difference. You cannot seem to provide one bit of evidence that what you say is true.
As said earlier if a thousand witnesses appear in a court and testify that the sun rose this morning is it evidence? Of course. It always has been and always will be that in courthouses that testimony is evidence.
We can easily determine whether or not the sun did in fact rise in the morning. Not so for your god.
The 'I know what evidence is' fallacy by Jiim followed by the 'I can determine if there is God only show me how' rant.
Fun fact: U.S. courts no longer make you swear on a bible.
Analyst note: most likely because they know it is a useless endeavor.
I would like to nerd out and point out the fact that the sun only appears to rise as we all know. We know this, thanks to science. This was determined through observation and mathematics. This is evidence. Religion would be content to accept that the earth is the center of the universe and the sun "rises".
And yes, christians... we ARE coming for you. Except we're not coming to ki.ll you. We're coming to educate you and bring you out of the dark ages, so we can enter an age of peace with out the global strife caused by religion. BOO!
Actually, the founding fathers who framed the Const/itution and created this marvelous, secular nation were not terribly christian. If you wish to know exactly what men like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Thomas Payne and Benjamin Franklin though about religion, in their own words, I invite you to visit this site:
I wasn't going to view this, but I'm glad I did. LOL.
Haha... yeah. I agree. This was great.
While it's true that a life threatening illness can bring your moods down, it is at this precise moment in time that your response to such diagnosis will bear fruit of one's Christianity. To some degree, this is the real test of your true fellowship with Christ (or lack thereof).
To a true Christian, though the very act of dying may sting (and f-e-a-r would be a natural response to said sting), the dominating att.itude and response of our im.minent dem.ise should be what we read in :
PHILIPPIANS 1:21 - For to me, to live is Christ and to d-i-e is gain.
2 TIMOTHY 4:6-8 - ...and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
I can quote nonsensical bible quotes too.
17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
If you honestly think you are going to eternal paradise when you die why would that be a test of Christianity?
If He executed judgement in the book of Numbers toward the enemies of His people and He promises to come back and rule the earth and His people will reign with Him then you will be on the wrong side and why? Because you have judged that God is not good. That what you see or read and how you percieve it. It does not make sense so you have judged Him. Rather if you take the approach by looking at the beauty of the universe and the beauty of mankind and assume there must be some good in God and a more open approach and ask Him to show you why it honestly does not make sense? Then He can and promises to work with you and reveal Himself to you.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.