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July 13th, 2011
09:14 PM ET

Amid growing pressure, churches in China 'are at a critical moment,' pastor says

By Eunice Yoon, CNN

Beijing, China (CNN) - The congregants were seated in rows of folding chairs, clasping their hands in prayer or studying passages in their Bibles.

The choir was sitting up front ready to sing on cue. A cross hung behind the pastor. The service looked like a Christian service you would see pretty much anywhere else in the world. But this is Beijing, and the recent Sunday service was illegal.

I couldn't stop glancing at the door and wonder - are the authorities on their way?

This must be the feeling the people in informal churches here have lived with for decades, I thought.

In China, the government allows religious activity but tightly controls it, requiring Christians to meet at state-approved churches. Many Chinese Christians prefer to worship on their own terms at "house" churches, which generally start as small prayer meetings in people's homes.

In recent years, the authorities have tolerated these underground churches. In fact, the parishioners CNN spoke to seemed unfazed by their church's illegal status.

However, Pastor Ezra Jin, the leader of Zion Church, said these churches are now under tremendous pressure - in the midst of China's crackdown on dissent here in the wake of the Arab Spring.

"We are at a critical moment," he said. "What we need is communication."

House churches, he said, cannot afford to stay silent - one of the reasons he granted CNN rare access to film in his banned church.

Jin is concerned that China's underground churches could become targets of jittery authorities like one of Beijing's biggest house churches, Shouwang. Over the past several months, Shouwang's members have been routinely detained and its leaders put under house arrest.

The government defended its actions, saying the congregants were repeatedly gathering illegally in the streets.

Jin finds the development troubling. He and over a dozen other house church leaders have filed a petition to top Communist Party officials calling for greater religious freedoms.

He fears that without dialogue, underground churchgoers could face a fate similar to practitioners of another - heavily persecuted - spiritual group.

"Shouwang's case could deteriorate into a massive crackdown if not handled properly," he said. "We are trying to send a message to remind the Communist Party leaders not to inflame this incident, not to tackle it the way they did the Falun Gong."

The government officially allows freedom of religion but has long been wary of churches, suspicious they could be a source of opposition.

Pastor Jin doesn't see himself as a threat. He hopes his decision to speak up will foster understanding - and possibly lead to legal recognition of house churches without the government controls.

"We are very aware of what we are doing," he said. "And we are ready to pay the price."

He is a man of God now emboldened despite, or perhaps because of, the Chinese government's heavy hand.

Watch The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer weekdays at 4pm to 6pm ET and Saturdays at 6pm ET. For the latest from The Situation Room click here.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Asia • Belief • China • Christianity • Church • Church and state • Content Partner • TV-The Situation Room

soundoff (531 Responses)
  1. Shimpainai

    Non profit organizations can lead you to salvation. All of them are filled with truth and will lead to eternal life.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • gsperson

      I think we can all take satisfaction in the knowledge that – you didn't put a lot of time into that comment.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:40 am |
  2. Data1000

    The last thing China needs is a bunch of religious nutters in its rural areas. However trying to deter religious nutters only seems to empower them.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:03 am |
    • peterson

      don't worry, the little boys in the rural areas won't get pregnant when exposed to the white Rod of God

      July 14, 2011 at 1:14 am |
  3. Shimpainai

    Jesus gives eternal life but only if your church is paying taxes.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:02 am |
    • Samuel

      This appears to be true from what is stated in the book.

      July 14, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  4. Shimpainai

    Jesus Loves Your Money and needs your vote.

    July 14, 2011 at 1:00 am |
  5. gothchild

    There are six large dams in China and below it 10,000 built purposely starting in the 1930's It is a 'trip system'. All in the history books at public library written by those who did it. The dams are built to fail, either naturally or with cruise missles. There is no defense China has, they know it. When it happens, let us finally learn what KOWTOW means. In China the flood comes and the women are already pregnant. Read history books in the library.

    July 14, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  6. Shimpainai

    Jesus loves organized religion.

    July 14, 2011 at 12:57 am |
  7. jellylee20202

    Religions are evil, they should ban all religious practices.

    July 14, 2011 at 12:48 am |
    • karin houston

      i don't like religion either but i'm not willing to throw the baby (the priviledge of freedom) out with the dirty bath water (religion). people are free to be stupid and they practice being stupid all the time. one can not know wisdom if one has not known folly– ancient chinese proverb
      it would be better to never have read a single book than to believe everything that is written in them. another ancient chinese proverb

      July 14, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • gsperson

      karin houston – I've read your criticisms of religious peoples. Tell us more, oh Karin. Your omniscience is "simply" hypocritical. (forgive my criticism of you, oh lord karin!)

      July 14, 2011 at 1:55 am |
    • Samuel

      Then say goodbye to the American Medical Association and Pope Obama.

      July 14, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  8. wilbur

    religion is good. God is great. Most missionaries these days go to other countries so they can screw children freely like they used to be able to do here in the USA

    July 14, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  9. Kyle H. Davis

    And please, people... NEVER take something written by Eunice Yoon as being "the truth" simply because she has an Asian name and reports from China. She is constantly making false statements in regards to life in China. – I honestly wonder how she continues to be paid by CNN. In 2007 she had a similar report about the Bible printing business in China, and in her story she stated that Bibles could only be obtained in officially recognized churches, and that people were unable to freely buy Bibles – a TOTAL fabrication. – I've lived in China for quite a while, and Bibles can be freely obtained (as can the Qur'an and other religions books), by any person in China, at nearly every bookstore.

    July 14, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • ari

      i just looked up her report on it. it only says that state-sanctioned churches can distribute bibles, while "home churches" are not allowed to do so. it does not say that ONLY churches can distribute bibles, only that home churches cannot. but then again, i recall xinhua trying to smear her a few years ago, so i'm not surprised that you don't like her either.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:58 am |
  10. Nokat

    "In China, the government allows religious activity but tightly controls it, requiring Christians to meet at state-approved churches"

    Sounds like the USA, don't be caught praying in schools or in public places cause it will rile up the atheist and they must be catered to because this country has lost it's balls

    July 14, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • Data1000

      I agree. We need to force God back in our public schools. After reading the old testament a few times, he really needs work on his writing skills. His knowledge of science is also quite lacking.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:06 am |
  11. HERO

    How the Bible Led Me to Islam: The Story of a Former Christian Youth Minister – Joshua Evans
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYMKQKSV0bY

    July 14, 2011 at 12:45 am |
    • joedude

      omg, WHO IS THIS GUY? i love him. to go from one crazy religion to an even CRAZIER religion is just a feat in itself, really.. i am impressed

      July 14, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  12. Logic

    At least there is some government with enough brains and balls to crack down on this lunacy.

    July 14, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • joedude

      i dunno if i'd call china's government either brainsy or ballsy, tbh

      they seem a lot worse than our gov at any rate

      i don't like religion but i'd rather live here with a 99% christian congress than there with a 99% atheist one... go figure

      July 14, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  13. Kyle H. Davis

    I DESPISE this type of article – Most of you will see me bashing China (when it needs to be bashed), but I will also defend against ignorant reporting like this that does nothing but confuse the reader as to differences in culture.

    The idea that China is run by a “godless government, bent on the eradication of organized religion” is a myth, propagated by those idiot missionaries who come here and get their asses thrown out for breaking the law.

    Christianity has been in China since 635AD (and possibly as far back as 86AD). There are millions of Christians in China. There are hundreds of thousands of Christian churches in China. There are ministers, preachers, and priests in China. China is the largest printer of Bibles in the world.

    You can go into nearly any bookstore, in any city, and buy a Bible. You can walk into any licensed church on any Sunday morning and attend service. You can sit back and discuss religion with anyone. You can sit in the middle of any public place and read and study your Bible. There is even Biblical teaching within schools (I’ve seen textbooks on religious studies as well as Bible stories used as English reading texts). And CHINESE are free to sit around, in public, studying the bible (as long as it does not turn into a church service).

    There is freedom of religion in China. However, the extent of that freedom is not the exact same as what we see in the west. And the difference in those freedoms is based on the history and culture of China… just as much as the freedom of religion the US holds dear is based on its own history and culture. Comparing them and dismissing China’s idea of freedom of religion, simply because it is not the same, is ignorant.

    Because of the likes of Jim Jones, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and other incidents in western culture/history, there ARE some restrictions and regulations to what they can and cannot do in the west.

    After thousands of years of feudal society, followed by 100+ years of a single party government (yes, the Nationalists were a single party also), many of the people are easily swayed when it comes to religion (and anything else for that matter). The government knows this, and they have seen the results of it.

    From 1850-1864, a nutcase in China (Hong Xiuquan), who was converted to Christianity by western missionaries, started calling himself the son of God and waged a war that resulted in the deaths of 20 million people (Taiping Rebellion).

    I think China has a pretty damned good reason to be wary of westerners interfering with religion in China. And they have a good reason to regulate it. Regulation does not mean lack of freedom, or that the government twists religion into something "Godless"... Religion is looked upon as a business – Many of the 'freedoms' we enjoy in the west are also looked upon as a business and regulated.

    If a Chinese psychiatrist went to the US and opened an office without a license, would he be closed down? Possibly fined? And, if he kept doing it in secret, would he eventually be arrested and possibly thrown out of the country? Yep.

    Let’s keep going with that example:

    Would he be accurate if he went back to China and said that the US government was against psychiatric care, or that the US government was out to get people with mental disorders? Nope.

    That is what this type of reporting is doing, and what idiot "secret" missionaries do every year when they come back from China. What bothers me the most is the ignorance of those in the states that donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to sponsor "missionaries" to China, not knowing they are being duped. It blows me away.

    July 14, 2011 at 12:39 am |
    • ari

      it's funny to see so many chinese people get so upset when their government is criticized. i guess it's just a symptom of the disease, as they say.

      banning peaceful religious congregations is wrong. it's wrong in america, it's wrong in europe, it's wrong in china. this is not "reasonable" and is not due to jim jones or whatever else you're trying to justify it with. china has HUGE issues with religious people, from muslims to christians. you can deny it all you want, but it's the truth. religion is seen as going against the "communist" state.

      and you know, atheists and buddhists in china have killed millions of people too! imagine that! let's put blocks on atheism and buddhism too, since they're obviously so evil.

      faith is not a business. it is a personal matter. you have been brainwashed into believing your government's official line and it is sad.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • Kyle H. Davis

      I'm not Chinese... I am Christian, American, who has been living in China long enough to see the 'diseased' mind of the west when it comes to their idea of freedom of religion in China.

      Would you say that you have the freedom of protest marching in the US? Of course you would, but try to do it in Washington DC, without a permit, and your ass will be thrown in jail.

      China requires a license for a CHURCH... not for studying, practicing, learning, reading, or worshiping.

      China ISN'T the US, it has had thousands of years of feudal society in which the leaders have dictated what the people know – it HAS had an affect on the people of China, and the government knows it. – I suggest you read my comment again and understand it a little clearer.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:56 am |
    • gsperson

      Nice try, but people today are a little too smart for that old line propaganda. Joseph Goebbels is dead, and so are you.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • ari

      you're missing the point, kyle. china should not have such strict controls ON the church. it should have separation of church and state. that is not a diseased western mindset, it is a mindset that is followed by countries that appreciate the human rights of its citizens–which china obviously does not to any significant degree.

      the definition of a church–or a synagogue or a temple or whatever–IS to worship, pray, learn, and read. that is what these home churches do.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:03 am |
    • Kyle H. Davis

      There is no "banning of peaceful religious congregations" in China... Well, just as much as there is in the US. In the US, religion is not completely free to do as they wish, when they wish. It is regulated when it comes to schools. It is regulated when it comes to interaction with government. It is regulated when it comes to publicly taking sides against politics. Every church building you go into in the US, MUST follow some form of government regulation. – Churches are considered "non-profit organizations", and enjoy a largely tax-free status. – And those things must be registered for.

      What is taught is also closely followed and regulated by the US government – If you think that there are not agents of the US government following what is being taught in mosques, then you are really blind.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:05 am |
    • moontroy

      II totally agree with you. I would suggest those who wants to comment staying in China for a period and trying to observe the real fact. And at the same time I think the reporter is not responsible enough. She gave some pieces of seemingly facts and tried to confuse her readers. It is not a good conduct.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:13 am |
    • Ben D

      You're not really a Christian, are you? You're a Chinese Communist spreading their propaganda. Obviously.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:15 am |
    • moontroy

      II am neither a Christian and Communist party member.....

      July 14, 2011 at 1:19 am |
    • Kyle H. Davis

      Again, it is you who is missing the point. There IS freedom of religion and worship in China. When it comes to churches, they require a license. – Because of this, it does not mean that there is a "Godless Communist government" who is out to eradicate religion, or that a license is granted only if the government can interfere with what they teach. This is a complete falsehood, propagated by stories like this, and outsiders who have NEVER been to China.

      While I can agree that, by western standards, this is not a "complete freedom", the freedom of what/who/how a person worships, is NOT interfered with. Or, at least it is not interfered with more than it is in the west.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:21 am |
    • moontroy

      II am just a student studying Journalism. It is not a good conduct to get trapped in the government's propaganda. And it's worse for a journalist not telling the truth.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • gsperson

      So what you're saying is – people are not "understanding" your comments like you think they should. Yes, I agree.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • Kyle H. Davis

      Ben D – I am neither Chinese or Communist – I am an American, liberal Republican, living in China. I criticize the Chinese government on almost every occasion (just take a look at my blog kyle.cn)

      Heck, I've been KICKED OUT of China, once before, because of the lack of freedom of speech, so I have more reasons to criticize the government than most people. However, I am intelligent enough to base my opinions on a per-issue basis.

      When it comes to this issue, I might not "support" the government, but I will defend them against the ignorance of the west, or westerners who have been indoctrinated by propaganda.

      If we are going to fight against Communism, it should be based on TRUTH, not based on our own ignorant propaganda... that is hypocritical.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:30 am |
    • David Wang

      Great work!

      July 14, 2011 at 1:33 am |
    • Steve

      Kyle, thank you for the well thought out response from the other side. This does make the Chinese Gov't response appear more rational than what is frequently presented in the US where there always seems to be a need for an ever present boogeyman. Nonetheless it does reflect a certain degree of paranoia regarding freedom of assembly and makes one think that the chinese gov't wants to regulate these groups so they can monitor them. Seems a bit heavy handed though I can understand it from a particular point of view. Do you know if this applies to other religious groups? I also think that Christian groups milk the idea of "we the persecuted" and exaggerate it as it garners sympathy and more recruits and they can point to it in the bible as it stated christ's followers would be. A common ploy for a religion that ironically retains much power over people's minds.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  14. God loves

    Although this story is sad, it is good to see mainstream coverage of persecuted Christians. It seems like all we ever hear nowadays about Christianity is that it's a religion & religion is bad, when most Christians simply desire the freedom to love, worship & yes, see others set free through the power of Christ.

    We cannot forget that the earliest Christians in the New Testament were unjustly persecuted – to the point of death – by fearful governmental authorities. This persists in various regions of the world today. It happened in Communist USSR, so why should we treat China's rulers differently simply because they've opened up their markets? At some point we will have to ask ourselves what do we value more: freedom for all, or prosperity for the few?

    All Americans- including agnostics & athiests – should be concerned about governmental crackdowns on freedoms we take for granted here.

    July 14, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • karin houston

      The logical end to any 'religious' indoctrination is the Jim Jones Guyanna tragedy. Absolute unquestioning faith is evil and desiring one to be 'lord' over you where you play servant, obeying and behaving and thinking like an ignorant child is foolish.
      The old testament was written by Moses whom I believe was Abel and Abraham reincarnated. His motive was to frame Cain for his murder which was Cain defending Lillith (a perfect Godess). Cain was the hero. Abel, Abraham, Moses – Chaney effectively framed his followers perspective and has been on a genocidal murder spree ever since the times of the Bible. 9/11 followed the pattern with Chaney and Bush re-enacting the Mormon Mountain Meadows massacre. If you think this stuff is harmless then you need to think again. I'm not saying it justifies mistreating the foolish followers who are simply fellow victims but I am in favor of holding people accountable for their actions. see zeitgeist.com or jesus sucks on facebook if you want more info.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:42 am |
    • ari

      @karin

      WUT? i have literally no idea what you just said. get help.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:49 am |
    • Kyle H. Davis

      There is no persecution of Christians going on in China... that is simply a myth, propagated by "China Bashes" or ignorant Christian missionaries trying to justify their existence in China. – For them, the money that western churches donate to them, to allow them to "spread the word", is a racket they have been abusing for years. – (read my earlier comment)

      July 14, 2011 at 12:51 am |
  15. thetrureal

    Religion is what is keeping us down; religion is what is denying us from technological advancements and human rights! We fight for the fictional characters that we believe in and if another fellow human being does not worship what you do, then they are the wrong and evil, so off we go to war over it, we alienate each other over it, we hate each other over make believe. We know this but we keep on doing it, why?

    July 14, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • ari

      right... that's why the glorious non-religious nations of the USSR, china, and north korea have invented and innovated such things as computers, the internet, televisions, cars, planes, vaccines, transplants, etc whereas evil religious nations like america, england, israel, and france have not invented anything. that's also why china's human rights record is far better than, say, spain's, and why there was so much less violence under the non-religious command of pol pot than under his religious successors.

      wait...

      July 14, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  16. HERO

    TOP 10 REASONS WHY JESUS IS NOT GOD OR SON OF GOD.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YW99U4JWNEc

    July 14, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • joedude

      i find it hilarious that a muslim video lists "No one has seen God" as a strike against christianity (but not itself, of course!)

      July 14, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • joedude

      lmao i just watched the first ten minutes of this video. dear flying spaghetti monster. i came to this post to say something snarky about christians but once again islam makes christianity look logical and sane in comparison. orz

      July 14, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Tom

      10 Reasons why you should f off.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:30 am |
    • Dan

      Mohammad was a liar and a false prophet. He couldn't even get what Jews and Christians belived right.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:33 am |
    • jonathan

      It's toooo lateeeee I received the Holy Ghost already in Jesus' name...The Holy Ghost is proof that Jesus is Christ and is risen from the dead.. 🙂

      July 14, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • gsperson

      Ouch! There's an expression in Wisconsin – "you stepped on your own dick!". This Muslim guy claims that Jesus is dear to his heart, but, Islam condems anyone who claims to be God. Hmmm!? How could Muslims hold Jesus dear to their hearts as a prophet and yet put up with Jesus when he claims to be God? Hmmm? I'm thinking the only answer is – Islam is a shakey and holey web of lies. The fact is – Jesus is God! And that belief alone will get you to heaven. One only has to believe that the Son of God died for your sins – and you get to go to heaven. Praise you Jesus!

      July 14, 2011 at 1:16 am |
  17. Michael

    If you don't believe in what's good then there is only belief in what is bad!

    July 14, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Tom

      Spoken like a true fundamentalist. Things are either black or they are white, no gray.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  18. YS

    I find it hilarious that a bunch of Americans are posting comments like "good!" and "religion is evil!" and "stop Christianity before it takes over!" and "we're so oppressed by the evil Christians here!".

    Meanwhile, they live in a nation that is amongst the most secular and religiously diverse on earth (yes, really), where atheists, Jews, Mormons, and Muslims all earn more than Christians (yes, really), where religious freedom and freedom of speech are protected more than anywhere else in the world (again–yes, really), where virtually all of the most important inventions of the past century have come from, where abortion is legal, where gay marriage is legal in six states, where people are not required to declare a religion (unlike in my country!), where non-Christians are allowed to vote. All while having a 80% Christian majority.

    Let's all feel sorry for those poor oppressed non-Christian Americans who are sitting on their Macs typing screeds against Christianity without fearing any sort of repercussion from their government. It must be so hard to be them. They are clearly VERY discriminated against.

    July 14, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • Michael

      we love you!

      July 14, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • ari

      americans just like to complain a lot. most of us realize how good we have it, there's just a small but vocal minority that has deluded itself into believing that we live in a dictatorial theocracy.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:15 am |
    • 2Pc.

      YS,
      Your comment is what we Americans call, "TELLING IT LIKE IT IS!!"

      July 14, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • Jennifer

      Exactly! Thank you.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Roger

      Yes, we live in a secular nation. Let's keep it secular, shall we? Just because we live in the most secular country in the world doesn't mean we should let our guard down against the ambitions of the religious establishment. The more complacent we become about the fundamental values that makes this nation great, the more of religion we will see encroaching into our public schools and government.

      It wasn't until the 1950s that the term "under God" was added to the pledge of allegiance. Was America not a wonderful and secular nation before then? Maybe it was too secular for the religious establishment, and thanks to McCarthy and his paranoid delusions about "atheistic" communism, the Knights of Columbus got their way - only the communists weren't atheists anyhow.

      Religious establishments have been devising ways to conquer society and impose their beliefs onto the unwilling for thousands of years. Only within the last 200 years has that vicious and inhuman cycle been broken. In other words, it is a daily struggle to ensure that the "believers" don't surrender what's left of American freedoms to those who mean to control and oppress under the guise of divine righteousness.

      July 14, 2011 at 1:01 am |
  19. Atheist

    so wait, we want the government to control where mosques can and cant go, thus we have decided that Muslims can only worship in government authorized mosques, where is the great uproar from the Christians against this?

    July 14, 2011 at 12:08 am |
    • ari

      the issue in the article is that some chinese people have started praying in their homes (with other people). it is illegal to do that in china. if a muslim (or anyone else) in america wishes to do that here then that is perfectly legal, so i'm not sure what you're talking about.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:14 am |
    • chanGe

      I don't believe that govt can persecute anyone for praying inside the his own house. Religion should be individual experience. However, some how some religion insist on making it a collective decision, which is at odd with Chinese govt's policy. Though I think Chinese govt should allow these people to pray, I don't see any benefit for these religious exercises, so I am not sure what chinese govt does is against human welfare. God, help us from your followers. What good can they bring to a secular society?

      July 14, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Dan

      If you're referrring to the proposed mosque at ground zero, you need to keep up, as it has been approved. While may Americans - religious and non-religious alike - were angered by it, there were others who are not and supported it.

      July 14, 2011 at 12:38 am |
  20. Stephen

    Freedom to express ones belief should be consistent with all countries. The earth belongs to all of us. Everyone of us should have an equal say in what we believe or not believe and each freedom should be respected fully through science, religion or even fantasy. Those who want to lord over each other are just revealing that we as humans are still primitive by nature,

    Any nation which controls any belief practiced which belief is practiced under a peaceful position should be deemed as a third world mindset. If they are given first world country powers alongside a third world mindset they can cripple humanity's progress towards a better future.

    This is why North Korea and countries like its own are such a danger to humanity. They operate within the category of primitive perception yet possess elite weaponry.

    We should dismantle them before they do damage.

    July 14, 2011 at 12:08 am |
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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.