My Take: Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing
Carl Medearis with Sheikh Nabil Qawouk Hezbollah’s number two leader.
July 24th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Take: Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing

Editor's Note: Carl Medearis is an international expert in Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations and is author of the book Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism.

By Carl Medearis, Special to CNN

Let’s do an exercise. I want you to fill in the blank on what you think you know about me based on what I’m about to tell you.

Here goes: Twenty years ago, I became a missionary. My wife and I left our home in Colorado Springs, Colorado to move to Beirut, Lebanon. Our job description was to plant churches and evangelize to Muslims.

Based on what I just said, Carl Medearis is a ______________ .

Depending on your background, the blank may look something like this:

Carl Medearis is a... hero of the Christian faith, a saintly super-man willing to sacrifice the comforts of home in order to share the love of Jesus Christ with those who have never heard the gospel.

Or this:

Carl Medearis is a... right-wing extremist who destroys cultures, tears apart families and paves the way for neo-colonialist crusaders to invade, occupy and plunder the resources of local populations.

Quite a range, isn’t it?

For one group of people, the words “evangelist” and “missionary” bring to mind pious heroes performing good deeds that are unattainable for the average Christian. For another group, those same words represent just about everything that’s wrong with the world.

I understand the confusion.

Based on my experiences of living and traveling around the world, I know that religion is often an identity marker that determines people’s access to jobs, resources, civil liberties and political power.

When I lived in Lebanon I saw firsthand how destructive an obsession with religious identity could be. Because of the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics, modern Lebanese history is rife with coups, invasions, civil wars and government shutdowns.

When I tell my Christian friends in America that some of the fiercest militias were (and are) Christian, most are shocked. It doesn’t fit the us-versus-them mentality that evangelism fosters, in which we are always the innocent victims and they are always the aggressors.

This us-versus-them thinking is odd, given that Jesus was constantly breaking down walls between Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, men and women, sinners and saints. That’s why we have the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Jews in Jesus’ day thought of the Samaritans as the violent heretics, much the same way that Christians think of Muslims today. The idea that a Samaritan could be good was scandalous to first century Jews.

Jesus was the master of challenging religious prejudice and breaking down sectarian walls. Why do so many Christians want to rebuild those walls?

Even the Apostle Paul insisted that it’s faith in Jesus that matters, not converting to a new religion or a new socio-religious identity.

What if evangelicals today, instead of focusing on “evangelizing” and “converting” people, were to begin to think of Jesus not as starting a new religion, but as the central figure of a movement that transcends religious distinctions and identities?

Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider. How might that change the way we look at others?

This is more than just a semantic difference.

When I used to think of myself as a missionary, I was obsessed with converting Muslims (or anybody for that matter) to what I thought of as “Christianity.” I had a set of doctrinal litmus tests that the potential convert had to pass before I would consider them “in” or one of “us.”

Funny thing is, Jesus never said, “Go into the world and convert people to Christianity.” What he said was, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Encouraging anyone and everyone to become an apprentice of Jesus, without manipulation, is a more open, dynamic and relational way of helping people who want to become more like Jesus — regardless of their religious identity.

Just because I believe that evangelicals should stop evangelizing doesn’t mean that they should to stop speaking of Jesus.

I speak of Jesus everywhere I go and with everyone I meet.

As founder and president of a company called International Initiatives, my work is aimed at building relationships among Christian leaders in the West and among Muslim leaders in the Middle East.

It may come as a surprise to many Christians that Muslims are generally open to studying the life of Jesus as a model for leadership because they revere him as a prophet.

But now that I’m no longer obsessed with converting people to Christianity, I’ve found that talking about Jesus is much easier and far more compelling.

I believe that doctrine is important, but it’s not more important than following Jesus.

Jesus met people where they were. Instead of trying to figure out who’s “in” and who’s “out,” why don’t we simply invite people to follow Jesus — and let Jesus run his kingdom?

Inviting people to love, trust, and follow Jesus is something the world can live with. And since evangelicals like to say that it’s not about religion, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus, perhaps we should practice what we preach.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Carl Medearis.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Interfaith issues • Opinion

soundoff (3,792 Responses)
  1. Charlie Frederico

    Jesus Christ came to unite the world under a one-world ruler...Himself. The Old Testament promised one who would crush the enemy (Genesis 3:15). It promised one who would rule the nations (Isaiah 11:1-10; Zechariah 14), beginning first with the restored nation Israel, who will one day "look on Him whom they pierced" (Zechariah 12:10;cf. John 19:37). The Bible says that Jesus is God, and became a Man so that He could die the death that we all deserve because we fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). That death that He died, He died in order to give eternal life to any who would believe in Him (John 3:16). To say that Jesus did not come to see people repent and believe in Himself completely misrepresents the entire plan of God. The truth of the matter is that mankind loves their sin and does not believe in Christ. You cannot change the terms of entrance into God's heaven. His own beloved Apostle Peter said, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” -Acts 4:12.This message, the gospel, divides.

    July 24, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  2. Walter

    Much more than being a nice person who loved everyone and who did good things for people, Jesus was the only perfect human who every lived. He did what everyone from Adam through Moses to David failed to do. (Rom. 5:18,19) He pleased God in every way. (John 5:30, 8:29) He was totally accepted by God through works and not by grace. He did not need a mediator but he merited the right to Heaven through his own work. Because of this, God accepted him as righteous, delivered him from death and the grave and exalted him to the highest place in Heaven.

    This is much different from being a Christian. Christians are those who realize they are not perfect (Rom 3:10-18), have broken the Law of God (Rom 2:23), and must have grace in order to be accepted by God. Christians understand that they cannot trust in their own obedience to be right with God, (Rom 3:20) but must have faith in a mediator to bring them to God and Heaven (Rom 3:22-25). Therefore, Jesus could not be a ‘Christian’ in any biblical sense. But God so loved the world........... All humans that worship him will live forever! Religion is a man thing such as the name Christian, Jew, Muslim etc... Jesus was nothing but the son of the ALMIGHTY GOD. I think it's time for you to bow to him now......

    July 24, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  3. Really

    John 17:3 This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.

    July 24, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I don't want to live forever. I can't imagine anything more unnecessary.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Heath

      "Go and make disciples of the world." Really that means stay home and keep your beliefs to yourself.... Only a Democrat (who see everything upside down and backwards) would believe that. The point was to spread the word of the existence of God, and his son Jesus and his teachings of peace... whether they believed or not was up to God, and not up to the people who sent the message. Thats what people are forgetting, Men cannot save other men, only God can. All we are charged to do is to set the example and spread the word, not "convert" people... if they hear it and chose not to follow, we have done our part in giving them the option by letting them know.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  4. Bruno

    "But now that I’m no longer obsessed with converting people to Christianity, I’ve found that talking about Jesus is much easier and far more compelling.


    Evangelical soteriology is so obsessed with "getting saved", to the point that anyone who dies merely confused or in error is considered damned to an eternity of torment.

    Jesus did NOT say, "Father forgive them, for they did not invite me into their hearts as their personal savior."

    Rather, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."

    July 24, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • solider of Chist

      john 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Mat 9:13 But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Col 1:6 Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:
      Col 1:7 As ye also learned of Epaphras our dear fellowservant, who is for you a faithful minister of Christ;
      Col 1:8 Who also declared unto us your love in the Spirit.
      Col 1:9 For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
      Col 1:10 That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God;
      Col 1:11 Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;
      Col 1:12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:
      Col 1:13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
      Col 1:14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
      Col 1:15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
      Col 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
      Col 1:17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
      Col 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
      Col 1:19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;
      Col 1:20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
      Col 1:21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled
      Col 1:22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:
      Col 1:23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;

      Beating God into the heads of people is what turns them away. Jesus came with love in GODs name and that's that.Christians who don't walk in the Spirit will not save lives. that is why we have Him in spirit. God can move mountains and change lives. what you say is just a cop-out. You need to also know what God has called you for. If you don't he will not be with you. re-read the fruits of the spirit. and also remember that we are to be the salt and light. salt preserves and makes changes to the flavor, but can be tainted by impurities. He says do all things unto Me. Muslims kill for there god. We love for ours.there is a fine line between Luke warm Christians and Christians that walk in the Spirit. It is strict and tough but we are not here to enjoy the world but save it. are rewards are in heaven. The measure of a true man is not what he does but what God does in him. If your purpose is Gods plan you will indeed succeed but if it is your own you will indeed work for satan.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Bruno

      "Luke" warm Christians...

      I get it!

      "Mark" my words...

      July 24, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Bruno

      "Beating God into the heads of people is what turns them away."

      So does merely throwing dense walls of boilerplate scripture at people. A little judicious selectiivity goes a long way.

      July 24, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
  5. Robert Stovold

    Jesus a unifying figure? Whatever happened to "Think not that I came to bring peace, but a sword" and "He who is not for me is against me?"

    July 24, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • solider of Chist

      Bruno well your right about throwing scripture around. if you were not saved, I would be wrong for it. you are though, and thats were your foundation should be and well, as you cant seem to take your flesh and put it were it needs to be your big words and self motivated wisdom just shows your lack of humbling and ability to heed correction from a fellow brother in Christ. i wont quote anymore but i will direct you to Romans and there you will find that what you are claiming we shouldn't do goes against the Most High God and what He has called us to be. Lean not unto your own understanding.... okay had to get one in... Praise God that you Got this Word! For His Grace is amazing and His Love is Never changing!!!

      August 1, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  6. Brian

    "The last Christian died on the cross." – Friedrich Nietzsche .......................................................................

    What we call "Christianity" today is nothing but a political expediency contrived by Constantine about 1700 years ago.

    July 24, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  7. Really

    Matthew 28:19 – "Go, therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things." SAID JESUS

    July 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  8. Gazork

    Carl Medearis ,, a very interesting fellow.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  9. NewsOrGossip

    That's the problem ...the Bible. Jesus is NOT the author. Jesus taught to dwell in the Upper Room...discover your own Light within you....be the light of the world. Do you know what this "Light" means. It's not Bible dogma about punitive Gods. The authors of the Bible had their own struggles and wrote their own perceptions of their experiences. Why has that turned into "The Bible Says" ....Jesus didn't have this Bible, nor is Jesus the author of the Bible. Do your own research and studying. The "Light" is what's inside of all of us. When you dwell in the Upper Room, and discover the light within you, you discover oneness with that which Created us, and you discover oneness with the world, the universe, your fellow humans. You discover what love really is...and you "love your neighbor", and I mean truly love your neighbor"...where you let this "light" of love, peace, joy etc. flow from you unto others. Think about this. Jesus taught humanity, oneness...unity! This discovering your own light within, is the "keys to the kingdom" that he talked about from his own discovery experience. Jesus draws the listeners' attention back to themselves, and makes himself out to be nothing special. Jesus doesn't want praise or lip service...but "light within you" action. Partake of your own bubbling spring within you!!! If our burden is truly light...all I need to do is allow my discovered light within me...shine upon you! I love you fellow human.!!! Now go forward and discover that light within you.... First Acquire Wisdom and all else will be added unto you!!!!

    July 24, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Sam

      Interesting how similar this sounds to the first major heresy in the Church. Gnosticism is back with a hindu/60s-free-love vengeance!

      July 24, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  10. Richard S Kaiser

    Carl Madearis wrote,
    "When I tell my Christian friends in America that some of the fiercest militias were (and are) Christian, most are shocked. It doesn’t fit the us-versus-them mentality that evangelism fosters, in which we are always the innocent victims and they are always the aggressors."

    It is a Truth Carl that; Christians can do many things even becoming "Militias" and fighting with ferocity. The delusions that such people as these malitias; are quite burdensome upon the backs of Faithfilled Christians who yet have a log in their eyes.

    Maybe it will soon be Time for Christendom to take shovels and picks in hand to dig relations' ditches and pave the Way to objective reasoning however bitter the taste.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  11. Aaron

    I found over a dozen scriptures in less than 2 mns teaching Christians to preach the gospel (evangilize). The author must be a Christian that doesn't believe in the Old or New Testament:

    Romans 10:15
    15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

    July 24, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Walter

      He is a Christian Democrat. Nuff said............

      July 24, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      Hello Aaron,

      Carl, this Blog's author does make sense when he was Lebanon and saw "Firsyand" the atrocities committed by "Christian Militias" Truth be Told I see Carl as being Tied to Christian Atrocities and Evangelizing Christian Fundamentalisms in which He, Carl does fail to reason with.

      To me, Those Christian Militias in Lebanon have nothing to do with Evangelization.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  12. Alex

    The way I see as a atheist is that religion is like something your trying to sell. You can't be forceful or yell at the person they will go to hell if they do not buy. The problem with sopa box preachers and holy rollers is they take it to extremes and give off a air that religion is not accepting and push their own personal views on it. Point in case they would make lousy salesmen and women. We were given the ability to choose. So let us have that gift from God if he exists and not squander it. Sure I don't believe myself and never will but you catch more flies with honey as they say. But I have no problem with people who believe in whatever they want as long as they do not force it on others.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  13. scott

    Jesus was never a Christian.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • sobeit

      No he was not, He was/is the son of GOD.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Walter

      Well... You opened your mouth Scott! Now do tell us what a Christian is and as to why Jesus was not one.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Sobeit, that's one of the main reasons that islame hates christiinsanity so much, because you guys worship the messenger and not the god. And then you had to throw in a ghost, what a crock of shiite.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Jesus was jewish. I'm surprised you didn't know that.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • sobeit

      @whatever, we use Hate alongside 'Sin'

      July 24, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      So be it, you worship false gods and bow down to graven images, isn't that a sin?

      July 24, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • sobeit

      @what, am a mere Mortal who does'nt get into defining Sins/Judgement. Follow his word and you will know what is Sin.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      You didn't answer the question because you know I'm right. Bury your head in the sand and it will all go away.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Also, you just defined sin earlier as equating to hate, but then you said you don't get into defining those things. What is it? Do you define them or not?

      July 24, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • sobeit

      @what, I will take you on that...

      You go read the Bible and I will await for you to get me a compilation of all the sins....

      July 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      I already read it once, I'm not wasting my time again.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • sobeit

      k, then you are on my "Prayer list" under the category.

      Lord please grant wisdom to those who have read the Bible and are in need of understanding.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • belikejeanvaljean

      You are technically correct. The word, "Chistian", means little Christ, or follower of Christ, and refers to those who follow Jesus and trust in him as their Savior.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  14. Walter

    14: ...the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. 15: But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have any one deprive me of my ground for boasting. 16: For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

    July 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • RickT

      What are you trying to say here?

      July 24, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  15. Pat

    What a thought provoking article! Great! Would love to see more of Carl on CNN!

    July 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  16. Freethinker666

    It disturbs me how many people still believe in this voodoo BS. No remotely sane person would walk into a library without any knowledge of religion, pick the the bible off the shelf, read it, and agree that it was the unquestionable word of "god". Same for the Koran. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of gods being worshipped well before EITHER religion existed. Not too mention this...um....little thing called science and evolution. /sigh

    July 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • illuminati

      God existed before you and all other so called gods

      July 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Walter

      Find this in the Bible and then read more and you will understand my Brother. "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel - not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ. For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ".

      July 24, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      You just don't get it Walter. Shut your pie hole, we don't want to hear your delusions.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  17. Pastor David

    Mr. Medearis's view represents precisely the politically correct views that the un-Christian World demands, but is it the portrayal of our faith that Jesus commanded? Far from it. Of course its easier to speak about Jesus as a good teacher and a prophet to a Muslim person because that is how they see Him. Jesus did not claim to be a good teacher and a prophet; He claimed to be the Son of God. If He is not that, there is nothing about Him that makes Him worthy to be studied or discussed. Jesus came to save sinners by dying for their sins. His resurrection is His proof and our assurance that He got the job done. We must believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths this fact about Jesus. Confessing with our mouth entails telling everyone that He is indeed the Son of God. The Apostle Paul was not content to stay with comon ground when He spoke to people about Jesus. He told them how Jesus changed His life and how He could change theirs. Some of His audience beat him, others tried to kill him (and eventually did) and others CONVERTED TO THE FAITH THAT PAUL HAD! Such is the lot of the true disciple of Christ. If Mr. Medearis can't take the heat, he should stay out of the kitchen...

    July 24, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • sobeit

      Amen Pastor!

      July 24, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Jacob

      A pretty good example of the kind of empty moral posturing that Christianity promotes. Thanks for the "witness".

      July 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • Bruno

      Jacob's comment is cogent.

      Even though Mr. Medearis went to Beruit to spread the Gospel at a time when the sectarian violence was winding down, but still very real (and which violence itself caused his reconsiderations), pastor David reduces Medearis' concerns to that all-purpose fundamentalist boogeyman, political correctness.

      Well, dust off your hands, pastor David!

      We can all go home, you've shown us true correctness.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • TheyNotHim

      "If He is not that, there is nothing about Him that makes Him worthy to be studied or discussed."

      Exactly. He is not that. If he existed at all, he was a Jewish carpenter and rabbi, nothing more.

      I am done discussing your fairy tales for today...

      July 24, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  18. A

    Even the comments show just how different people can be! I'm a non-denom Christian who doesn't really believe in "organized" religion. It's a very personal matter. I like to look at it like this...God is great, jesus is great too... but we believe what we believe. I will not look down upon a friend who is atheist, because they have personal reasons for doing so. It is not my position to change people! Why should we try and change people? We are very small in the views of the world. So the moral : love god, but it's your choice!

    July 24, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      "love god, but it's your choice". This sounds exactly what christians said to black folk when they wanted to sit at the lunch counter, "it's whites only, but it's your choice". What kind of choice is that? It sounds like what they're saying to gays today, "god hates gays, but it's your choice".

      July 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  19. illuminati

    This guy is totally nuts. That is the purpose of Christianity. We need to convert all of the moslems then this will be a better world. Then we can serve McPig sandwiches burn korans and no one will care.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      Ol' McDonald had a farm; E "Eye" E "Eye" OH and a Piggly wigly here and a Piggly Wiggly there, Here a Piggly there a Piggly Piggly Wigglies Everywhere!

      July 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  20. roger dixon

    What about giving the entire phrase- on to Matt. 29:20 – "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you..."
    Not just discipling but discipling according to his commandments. And the last time I looked, Islamic theology was not his commandments even though your point about Christians fighting and killing are also not his commandments. However, the failure of "Christians" to live according to the commandments does not give Muslims a free pass.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      That's Strange, theblueletterbible.com has no Mathew Chapter 29. There are only 28 chapters of Mathew in the BBB' KJVB

      July 24, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
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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.