December 5th, 2011
02:01 PM ET

Church reverses ban on interracial marriages

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Two weeks ago, Gulnare Free Will Baptist Church in Pike County, Kentucky, voted 9-6 to ban couples in interracial marriages from attending or participating in the church.

But on Sunday, the small church reversed its course.

Pastor Stacy Stepp told CNN affiliate WLEX on Sunday that the church voted unanimously to "accept all people regardless of race, creed, or color and to accept everyone into the fellowship of Christ."

"I tried everything in my power to try to resolve the matter before it got to where it did," Stepp told WLEX.

The problem began in June when Stella Harville, who grew up going to the church, brought her fiance, Ticha Chikuni, who is black, to the small church, where on average about 40 people meet for Sunday worship.

Harville, who goes by the nickname Susie, played the piano, and Chikuni sang a song during the service.

Her father, Dean Harville, a decades-long member of the church, told CNN affiliate WSAZ he was counting the offering when the pastor at the time, Melvin Thompson, came up to him and said, "Susie and her boyfriend are not allowed to sing in this church anymore."

"He said, 'Furthermore, Susie can take her fella back where she found him from,'" Harville said.

Engaged couple Stella Harville and Ticha Chikuni

That led to the vote on November 27 on a church policy banning interracial couples from attending or participating in services.

"It's racist, that's all you can call it," Harville told WSAZ. "I treat him like he's my own son. You won't find a nicer person," he said about his daughter's fiance, who is originally from Zimbabwe.

Chikuni told CNN affiliate WLEX, "For someone who, like Stella, has been going to that church for all her life, expecting some support from them. But you know, everyone just fell off the bandwagon and passed a really hard judgment on her and on us and the family too."

Stella Harville told CNN's Erin Burnett on Friday, before the church reversed the policy, "I still don't know how to process all this."

Harville grew up in the church but left Pike County to attend college. She told CNN she had known all nine church members who voted to ban interracial couples "since I was a little kid."

The ban led to a massive controversy.

The National Association of Free Will Baptists in Tennessee released a lengthy statement condemning the church policy.

"The National Association of Free Will Baptists does not have an official policy regarding interracial couples because it has not been an issue in the denomination. The Free Will Baptist Treatise neither condemns nor disallows marriage between a man and woman of different races," the statement read in part.

"Free Will Baptists have historically championed the rights and dignity of all people, regardless of race," it continued. It said that national and state officials from the denomination were working with the local church to overturn the policy.

On Saturday, the Sandy Valley Conference of Free Will Baptists, the regional body of the denomination, released a statement saying the church policy was "Null and Void," because the vote was not held in accordance with proper parliamentary procedure.

"Furthermore, Pastor Stepp has advised the conference that he and his church will hold a vote of solidarity for the purpose of welcoming believers into their fellowship regardless of race, creed or color. The Sandy Valley Conference will continue to work with the Gulnare Church to rebuild what has been damaged by this tragic error," the statement continued.

“We will be working with the church if they accept our help,” Keith Burden, the executive secretary of the National Association of Free Will Baptists, told CNN on Monday.

Burden said churches within the denomination govern themselves autonomously and the national denomination cannot impose rules or sanctions on the church, but can only remove a church from the national group.

Burden said he spoke with Stepp before the vote on Sunday and told him the denomination would provide educational materials to “better equip their leaders.” He also encouraged Stepp to take the corrective measures that the church eventually did, with the new vote on Sunday.

“We are genuinely sorrowful and repentant for what happened,” Burden said. “We hope to continue to work to try to prevent this from ever happening again.”

The young couple at the center of all this had not planned to get married at the church, but this incident settled any doubt on the matter, Stella Harville told CNN.

As far as whether she and her fiance would ever return to the church, she said, "I won't say never, but it's going to take a while."

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Baptist • Belief • Christianity • Church • Kentucky • United States

soundoff (613 Responses)
  1. Adam

    Why would you two want to be a member of this church? I am married to a lovely Puerto Rican woman (I am white) and we are members of the United Methodist Church, which is wonderful. I invite you and your fiancee to join.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • hippypoet

      I bet she likes to gobble your big Plantan. I know I would.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  2. Bob

    Christianity is intrinsically racist. Christian "god", among its many other evils, has a "chosen people" or preferred race, and has even slaughtered whole races or caused them to be slaughtered.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  3. appaulled

    If I were this couple and her family, I'd drop this church like a hot potatoe. The writing is on the wall that the congregation and minister are a bunch of racists. Ii is only due to the national attention that the minister changed his mind and reversed his gross decision.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • ilvpitz

      I believe you're right. It's only because of the media attention that the decision was reversed. The people in that church, especially the ones that voted against this couple cannot minister to the public. They themselves need ministering.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  4. Greg Gilbert

    I've been in an interracial marriage for 8 years now and have done interracial most of my life. Despite criticism of it not making sense on a day to day basis, I think racism characteristics are evolutionary. The practice has actually helped Europe keep it's well endowed innate ability alive and well. If Europe or any culture for that matter quickly mated and absorbed other cultures that appeared to have less positive traits then that culture would have less likely of a chance of surviving because of it would attain those negative traits. It is similar to a woman picking a man with good survival characteristics which also helped out our species.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • ilvpitz

      You lost me a little in your writng, but congratulations on your 8 year marriage. An 8 year marriage these days regardless of who is married is good. I wish you the best in your future.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • Kenneth

      Not so intelligent are ya there Greggers. Europe is a socialist cesspool full of lazy persons whose mothers were hamsters.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  5. Terry

    But the bible wants us to hate anyone different than us.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • gerc

      And in what chapter and verse and book is that found in?

      December 6, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • ilvpitz

      Have you actually read the Bible? You are incorect Terry. Please take some time to read the Bible. This whole article is the doings of bad people, not God. God does not discriminate, neither does the Bible.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • Igor

      "not God. God does not discriminate, neither does the Bible."

      Correct, the biblical god indiscriminantly killed the egyptian firstborn. Those evil kids. And destroyed the whole cities of sinners. Of course it's easier for one's conscience to just paint every single person living in the city as deserving of divine wrath. I'm sure if anything of sorts actgually happened plenty of innocents, women, children, elderly, died. God didn't ewven discriminate against his own son and Job who worshipped the ground god never walked on. Sure there might be some divine wisdom in killing and torturing, but divine plan is of little consolation to a slave.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  6. ilvpitz

    Some people today forget the whole purpose of church. They get caught up in their little political squabbles. They like to think they run the place and can say who can attend and who can't. Really? I cannot speak for God but I really don't think God has a problem with anyone going to church period. He would welcome all like He did in the Bible. NO ONE has a right to tell anyone that can't attend a certain church. NO ONE. It's not up to anybody. The decision is up to God alone. Internal church squabbles really hurt a church's ministry to a lost and dying world. I wish this couple the best of luck. They make a cute couple.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:39 am |
    • Igor

      " I cannot speak for God but I really don't think God has a problem with anyone going to church period. "

      Way to efrain from speaking for god. I suppose an absenty deity may not have a problem with anyone going to church, but the biblical deity whe have all come to know and love spent quite a bit of time having problems with so many people that he'd make even Stalin blush. Surely, at minimum Satan worshipers aren't welcome in god's church.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  7. hippypoet

    Really, this is still a news article, this wasn't news yesterday when it came out! I mean come on! Its a kentucky church, small town, small minds, old sensiblities! These are clearly racis people who are purely stupid people yet that grow the very finest herb...there i met a girl with flowers in her hair,she smoked my stuff and drank all my wine. Makes me wonder, really makes me wonder, oh it really makes me wonder! Now its time to ramble on. I will go over the hills and far away where I shall make my last stand here with Achilles! Perhaps before i leave this world i can travel to Kashmir where the songs remain the same. And there i shall sing the immigrant Song and attract me a whole lotta love from those lovely indian women! But its been ten years gone now and since i've been lovin you all i can think of is when the levees broke and our black dog died! Buy hey hey what can i do? We are but a ship of fools in this time of our dying heading towards the black mountain side! I say we bring it on home... 🙂

    December 6, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Harold (OR)

      That was a waste of time. Don't you have something intelligent to say?

      December 6, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • hippypoet

      nope, not today... i'm just rambling on!

      December 6, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Harold (OR)


      December 6, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • MarcTTF

      How many more times can we tollerate this. It makes me sick again. Stella, just remember that we 'll be here in good times and bad times, so come on home, because we're gonna grove.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:51 am |
  8. Kim

    Why is anyone surprised that there are racists in Kentucky? How abut Alabama? Mississippi? Arkansas? Texas? These are places where I'd be more surprised to find people who aren't racist than people who are.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • tekstep1

      Having lived in the South, the Northeast, the Midwest, and Texas, I can tell you that the racism in the Northeast far exceeds any that I experienced in the South. In the South, most cultures live in close proximity to one another. They work at the same places, go to the same schools, live on the same blocks. In the Northeast, they may have one or two African American kids in their schools, you don't see minorities working as much, and the neighborhoods are severely segregated. Small racist factions in the South are what is giving it a bad name. But the large number of people I met in the North were willing to sling racial epithets around me with ease. That sealed it for me.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Laminate

      tekstep is clearly a liar or never stepped out of his ghettos when living in the south.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • tekstep1

      Thats laughable. You must be from Upstate. I grew up in one of the most impoverished towns in NC, attended schools in SC, and GA, and worked in Savannah for 5 years. When I moved to Pittsburgh, I was shocked at the level of blatant racism extolled by almost everyone I met. I saw more confederate flags in Pittsburgh than I did in my first 22 years in the South! Although I also lived in NYC for a short time, NYC itself was not inherently racist, but areas like New Rochelle, Leonia, Fort Lee, and Rochester were very much the same as Pittsburgh. I must have offended you. Tell me, how many African Americans were at your school? How many did you work with? My school was 87% African American and had very little in the way of racial problems.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Meecham

      Hey, maybe it was just your lovely personality. Did you ever think of that?

      December 6, 2011 at 10:03 am |
  9. anon

    This is just strange. Grant it, a few decades ago it would have been no surprise, but given the vile behaviors we are having to deal with pounding at our nations doors, THIS is just downright weird. In no religous book or belief, is it considered an abomination to be black, white, or interracially yoked. Not so for some of the other common activities being shoved down our throats every day. Yet THIS is what they are willing to fight about!!!

    December 6, 2011 at 9:20 am |
  10. Kenechukwu Ekwe

    Oh my God racism in the church

    December 6, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  11. StephenyF

    Perhaps you should check facts before posting it....I'm from this town and it is Pike County, OHIO not Kentucky....although it is on the border of Kentucky, there is a big ole river separating it and it is definitely in Ohio. Furthermore, this area is one of the most racist probably in the country, really no surprise....

    December 6, 2011 at 9:12 am |
    • DarkAxel

      Someone has their geography wrong. It is Pike County, KY, and it's a heck of a lot closer to Virginia and Tennessee.

      How do I know? I live in East KY, and I went to school with Ticha at the Lees College Campus of Hazard Community College.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  12. Anne S.

    Good, I'm glad to see that the church finally realized that we are creatures of God. We should all learn to love one another.regardless of race, color or creed. We need to turn this thing around to start loving one another. Our world has changed to hating one another. How do we know that a black person is a white person turned inside out? I have known some very nice black people, and sometimes their known as trash. But on the other hand you also have white trash too. A person regaredless of his color should be able to attend church services of a church of his choice. Maybe the people who object to this probably haven't been to church for quite awhile. We go to worship the Lord, not to see what color the person who is attending. is.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • Marlene

      And you would marry an atheist? Right. Lofty ideals get lost in the real world.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Anne S.

      No I would not marry an atheist. I am a devote Catholic. But we should all learn to love one another regardless of creed. This world needs more love in it. There are too many haters in this world now, and they learn to soften their hearts.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • PeteDO

      Anne S., there are too many haters in this world yet you do not appear to be concerned with why that is, how it happens, or what they are hating and why.
      Ignoring the disease will not help you to treat the symptoms effectively any more than it would if someone were dying of cancer. Love is not a cure-all. Love is not all-powerful. It's nice but it's not the only thing out there.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  13. jayosn

    I have a feeling Rondo might get traded

    December 6, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  14. Kenneth

    They both are ugly.

    December 6, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Gil

      So don't have s3x with them. How hard is that? Are you just stupid or what? Troll.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:10 am |
    • ilvpitz

      You're being very ugly.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  15. Ricster

    There is definitely a God. Not all establishments that call themselves "churches" are testimonies of Christ on Earth. This group of people has forgotten that the Church belongs to God alone and Christ is the head. It is a divine organism which is to submit to Christ and not utilize the method and wisdom of men to do anything. It does not belong to people to act as they please! Christians are only members of Christ's body and should not act as if they are lord over it and claim to represent Christ.

    Voting? Exclusion of people based off of prejudice? Racism? Really? Democracy in the church makes it so that the will of men is sovereign and thus takes the will of God out of the picture. Can this "church" dare to claim that this was God's will that they practice prejudice and racism? Christ died for ALL so that ALL may be saved and be children of God. Christ did not die to save only one race.

    Christ died for all and paid the price for the sins of the world, and it was from Him alone the Church was formed. Formed to bear His divine testimony on this earth and to bring the world to know God. This is the decaying condition of the church today. Have we forgotten what Christ did for us, His Gospel, only to forsake it for a lower and earthly testimony of human pride, hatred and selfishness? What a waste.

    December 6, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Zach G

      Christian jesus died for our sins. Alcoholic Jesus died for our gin. DJ Jesus died for our spins. Sewing Jesus died for our Pins. God doesnt exist. If he is allpowerful why doesnt he kill the devil? If he is all powerful then why did he create a man who doesnt beleive in him? If you were born in India you would be Hindu.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • Archtype

      You should change that to Hindu parents instead of India.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • Igor

      Ex, people die every day and suffer a lot more than Jesus ever did, and usually for loftier ideals then forgiveness from a narcissitic, sadistic, capricious, being. And how is it such a sacrifice if Jesus was ressurected and then allegedly lived happily ever after. Someone needs to write a more compelling story of a sacrifice. Scientology and Mormonism showed us that something doesn't have to be 2000 years odl to gain a steady following. And Scientologists didn't even have to deal with the lions. Just Tom Cruiz.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • JoeyE

      Zachary.. I guess you haven't read Holy Bible enough.. God created everyone on Heaven even on Earth and Universe.. God CAN'T destroy every soul/spirit at all.. we all can be destroyed by God or Devil by our flesh, not our souls.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • OfReason

      @Ricster – if I wrote about unicorns or leprechauns like that you would say I was crazy, and yet they are no more fantasy than any religious nonsense

      December 6, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • claybigsby

      "Zachary.. I guess you haven't read Holy Bible enough.. God created everyone on Heaven even on Earth and Universe.. God CAN'T destroy every soul/spirit at all.. we all can be destroyed by God or Devil by our flesh, not our souls."

      JoeyE, I guess you have't studied the history of your religion. If you did you would realize that book you call the holy bible is nothing but words written by men to control the masses. Wake up.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • Ricster

      @OfReason :
      If I was a believer in theology of leprechauns and unicorns, I would be writing about the church's actions with a theological foundation in leprechauns and unicorns. But alas, this is the Church of Christ so I write based upon that respective theology.

      This "fantasy" will continue to exist with or without your approval or belief. So, if the church is going to continue to exist regardless of popular opinion, they best be held accountable and scrutinized based upon theological truths they were founded on and claim to represent. If it be nonsense to you, then let nonsense rule over nonsense, and logic over logic. Atheists cannot reconcile their beliefs with any God, and theists MUST reconcile their beliefs to their God.

      In the end regardless of what my base is, I am arguing against the practice of prejudice and racism, no?

      December 6, 2011 at 10:47 am |
    • OhPlease

      "This "fantasy" will continue to exist with or without your approval or belief. So, if the church is going to continue to exist regardless of popular opinion, they best be held accountable and scrutinized based upon theological truths they were founded on and claim to represent"

      LMAO – that's why there are so many different denominations and different interpretations of the bible so why is your truth better than some elses? LMAO! That's the problem with your fantasy.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  16. Emigdio Alvarez

    where in the bible does God ban interracial marriages?

    December 6, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • Ta-ak

      Numbers 25
      25:6 And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. (25:6-9) "Phinehas ... thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel."
      25:7 And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;
      25:8 And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:06 am |
    • benji

      Ta-ak: Wrong. There is NO verse that says interracial marriage is wrong. In God's eyes we are ALL His children so what does He care how we marry? God forbid certain marriages between the Jews because those they were going to marry would have turned them from God. God says, "Do not be yoked to unbelievers" that is all. He didn't say, "Do not be yoked to different races.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • BRC

      And how is that any better?

      December 6, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • PeteDO

      Christians never had a problem slaying unbelievers in the old days did they? Just like Muslims. Good times.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Ricster

      Ephesian 2: 13 – 18
      13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
      14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,
      15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace,
      16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
      17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
      18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

      The Old Testament was before Christ died and before the law was fulfilled in its entirety. Thus people of the Old Testament were bound to laws and separation from non-Jews. As Benji said, God's provision for His people were to be separate from the world so they can be consecrated to carry out His will. This forbade them from from intermingling with other races.

      But NOW, because of Christ's death, the world has been liberated from the bondage of the law and into the free Grace of God through his Son, Jesus Christ. And thus, He has united all peoples together under one Spirit, one Faith and one Lord - that is, those who actually believe.

      "12Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—
      13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God." John Chapter 1

      God also does not forbid Christians from marrying non-Christians, but it is highly recommended that one marry another of the same faith, IF POSSIBLE. You can imagine what kind of unneeded conflicts would arrive between a husband and wife when one who devoutly believes in God and one who devoutly denounces the existence of God.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • OhPlease

      "You can imagine what kind of unneeded conflicts would arrive between a husband and wife when one who devoutly believes in God and one who devoutly denounces the existence of God."

      If a conflict arises then the couple is NOT in a healthy relationship,a true HEALTHY relationship is about allowing the person you are with to be themselves completely.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  17. BET6312

    Things like this make it embarrassing to be a Catholic.

    December 6, 2011 at 8:33 am |
    • lisaleev

      Are you trying to be funny? These people are not Catholic.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • OfReason

      @BET6312 – When is it not embarrassing to be a Catholic?

      December 6, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  18. tammyheral

    race shouldn't matter we re all the same in gods eyes. the reason god banned interracial marriages is because a lot of the other cultures worshipedb idols. read the book of ruth in the bible . ruth and boaz was an interracial couple.

    December 6, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • Igor

      " the reason god banned interracial marriages is because a lot of the other cultures worshipedb idols. "

      Riiiiight. And the reason slavery is condoned in the bible is because god feared that giving some too much freedom will lead to idolatry.

      " we re all the same in gods eyes. "

      Unless, according to you, we worship someone other than god. I can't tell if you are naive, stupid or disingenuous in spouting such nonsense.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • rick

      But your idol worship is just fine, tammy?

      December 6, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Zach G

      Except that if you were born in India you would be Hindu.. Also Tammy is a girl name. Doesnt the bible forbid you from talking?

      December 6, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • JP

      Exactly....so were Moses and Zipporah.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • anon

      Wow, way to show your manhood on here BOYS. Disagreeing with her is one thing, but ganging up on her and getting hateful and mean is small, immature and boyish. But what the hell, after all, cnn is where the liberal crowd hangs out. You can get as nasty and snarky with Tammy all you want, but the truth of the matter is is that she speaks a fact in ancient history. Whether you believe a God did it or not, worshiping other gods was the main reason behind the ban. Of course, this is no longer an issue in our culture.

      What tough guys you are.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • tallulah13

      anon, if tammy is posting on a public message board, she can expect all sorts of treatment. I have certainly gotten my share of insults and damnations from christians, just for having my own opinion. If a person can't stand to be insulted, the best thing to do is avoid internet message boards.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  19. LeeCMH

    I hope the rules for snake handling haven't changed.

    December 6, 2011 at 8:20 am |
  20. Corvus1

    Racists need to be deported.

    December 6, 2011 at 8:17 am |
    • anon

      Why? That won't solve anything. For one, it's just liberal type thinking, which almost always leads to unintended consequences or disaster. Two, you would practially empty out the whole United States. The vast majority of the blacks would have to go, and at least half the whites. Affirmative action would be history, and the media would ALL get deported.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Liberal

      Since when has deporting people been a "liberal" stance on anything? What a shltty lying teabagger you are!

      December 6, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • Igor

      " But what the hell, after all, cnn is where the liberal crowd hangs out."

      Let me guess, anon, the brave defender of helpless women (surely poor women can't hold their own in an argument without the anonimous white knight) you are not a liberal. Even though you appear to be hanging out on CNN. I don't really make it my business to assume insultingly someone is liberal, conservative, libertarian, a mix, etc. so that i can feel better about my views. However, if you are a conservative, the your irony meter is broken when you accuse liberals of misogyny. I don't even want to start with all the examples because i don't want to spend the whole day pointing out your stupidity and hypocrisy on that issue.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:12 am |
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About this blog

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.