Written By: Spenser White/Photo By: Emma Baldwin
Most of Dr. Mike Fullingim’s students at Oklahoma Wesleyan University could probably tell you as many stories about his time in Papua New Guinea as he can. His stories of working as a missionary Bible translator are legendary in his classes. What many of his students do not know however, is that Dr. Fullingim is also an accomplished world traveler. Dr. Fullingim has ventured to many countries, some safer than others. He worked with Christians in Russia soon after the Berlin wall fell in 1989; he has seen the pyramids in Egypt. One of his most dangerous and exciting excursions was when he traveled with an organization advocating for the persecuted church around the world. This organization remains unnamed for protection.
This organization was working with OKWU in our Global Studies program. They would send individuals to work with our students for three-week intensives. This was becoming tedious for both the students and the teachers, so this organization was looking for a credentialed teacher from OKWU to give experience abroad with the persecuted Church. Dr. Fullingim, with his experience overseas was the logical choice for the opportunity. So, in May 2006, Dr. Fullingim flew to Pakistan to work with the persecuted Church for two weeks.
Pakistan borders Afghanistan to the north, Iran to the west, and India to the east. The history of Christianity is old in India. Most accounts say that Saint Thomas the Apostle planted seven churches on the west coast of India around 50 A.D. India and the surrounding region has had a Christian witness since then. Pakistan is a bit different. They do not have as long of a Christian witness. Once Britain colonized the Punjab region, they planted churches. Punjabi politics are complicated, but after Pakistan gained independence from India in 1947, they became a Muslim nation. The small number of Christians in Pakistan have endured much persecution since then.
Dr. Fullingim was thrilled to visit India with this organization, not surprising to anyone who knows his love of cultures. His connecting flight stopped in New Delhi, and the next day, he left for Lahore, Pakistan. Once in Pakistan, Fullingim was met at the airport by a representative for the only Christian non-governmental organization allowed to operate in Pakistan. Dr. Fullingim, as usual, was again excited to experience yet another new culture, unaware of the graffiti that said “Death to Americans” scrawled on the walls outside the airport.
One of Dr. Fullingim’s first experiences with the new culture occurred when, two days into the trip, his tour guide announced something to the team. “He said to us, ‘we are being tracked,’” reports Fullingim. “Then he explained to us how we would take different routes the rest of my time there. That’s when I realized we were in a hostile culture.” He laughed incredulously when he explained this to me.
Though Pakistan is hostile to Christians with its anti-conversion laws and anti-blasphemy laws, Fullingim found thriving congregations in Pakistan and even a Bible college in the capital. One church stood out to him: “We went down an alley in a neighborhood and I heard music being played over loud speakers. Christian music. I couldn’t believe it. Then I went into the church and they asked me if I could preach over the loudspeakers. I was shocked and nervous, but I did it.”
After church, Fullingim and his team sat down in the pastor’s living room to interview victims of persecution. He heard stories of a Christian girl beaten and abused by her father. Her husband was a convert from Islam. He had converted to Christianity because of how attractive the music was. Fullingim also interviewed a Christian teacher who was wrongfully accused of blasphemy. What shocked him most though, was that evening: the team compared notes and started cross-examining their stories. “The ladies asked ‘Do you think this-or-that story was true?’ I was shocked,” he told me. “I had never thought to doubt their stories, but the organization I was working with wants to publish only true stories. Because of the money associated with persecution victims, many people will lie to get aid. That shocked me.”
However, not all his trip involved depressing realities of restricted nations. Fullingim visited a Muslim village outside of Lahore and saw how thankful the villagers were for the aid from the organization, even though the organization is outspoken in their Christian faith. Fullingim also baptized a few new Christian believers. Fullingim’s journey helped him expand his worldview and see Christianity in a different light. He had not endured much religious persecution in Papua New Guinea, but now has seen many Christians surviving and thriving despite grave persecution.