by Ian White
“I felt as if a ton of bricks had lifted off my shoulders”
Expelled from school as a "waste of oxygen," Paul Hattaway celebrated his 50th birthday last month, looking back on a life that is the opposite of wasted.
Paul left home as a teenager to escape his horrific upbringing. But a cycling tour through the stunning scenery of New Zealand was the beginning of Paul's journey to fulfilment.
The youngest of six children, Paul was jokingly told by his mom that he was almost called 'Day' because, when he first appeared, his parents declared: "Let's call it a day!"
New Zealander Paul admits: "Before I met Jesus I was deeply oppressed and my life was going nowhere.
"My school principal had labelled me a 'waste of oxygen' and I had started to believe it.
"When God first called me I had $5 to my name and was unemployed ... all I had to offer Him was a miserable life of failure, loneliness, and depression ... I carried all of my worldly possessions in a bag, and had been sleeping on the roof of a public toilet."
Tidal wave of evil
Paul left home to escape severe beatings from his dad, and the "tidal wave of evil" from two siblings after they had experimented with drugs.
His sister even tried to suffocate him with pillows: "I remained pinned down as the breath drained from my lungs, while the room was filled with her loud, satanic laughter..."
A dejected 16-year-old Paul left Auckland with a one-way ticket to the South Island, sensing the reality of God's existence for the first time after a gruelling bike ride covering the entire 600-mile length of the island.
"My senses could scarcely contain the majesty of my surroundings...My bicycle journey convinced me of God's existence more than if I had listened to a thousand sermons. I had experienced the Creator's sermon."
But young Paul still wasn't sure if it was possible "for a human being to personally communicate with God."
But after touching down in Australia's huge city of Sydney in October 1986, the day after his 18th birthday, all that was to change.
Homeless, lonely and empty, Paul had already become a run down and battered "old man".
"I was enveloped by a suffocating web that threatened to entangle me forever...I believed in a Creator, but I didn't think He could be approached or known."
Entire world changed
At his lowest point, Paul cried out to God for a job whilst sleeping on a toilet roof in a public park and, before he knew it, he was miraculously working at a canvas factory.
Challenged by fellow worker Darren to attend his church, Paul went along and was immediately struck with the reality "that the hundreds of Christians surrounding me possessed something that I didn't have".
As Paul said "Amen!" to a prayer to put his faith in Jesus Christ his "entire world changed".
"My whole body felt dramatically different, as if a ton of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders and thrown to the floor...
"I laughed out loud with a sense of profound amazement at God's love and goodness. I knew that I had found the truth.
"I had arrogantly told Darren I would come to his church to have a laugh. I never imagined my prediction would come true in the way it did!"
Paul quickly became convinced he was being called to China after listening to a couple of Chinese preachers who had been imprisoned for their faith, at the very church back home in New Zealand that he had vandalised as a youth!
Paul arrived in Hong Kong with nothing more than a backpack, a single contact, and $50. He began work as a Bible courier, carrying hundreds of Bibles across the Chinese border.
Today he leads Asia Harvest, supporting thousands of indigenous missionaries and supplying millions of Bibles.
For decades, Paul has been traveling into China and other Asian countries to take Bibles to Christians desperate to read the Scriptures in their own language. He shares his dramatic experiences in a series of China Chronicle books, like his latest, Guizhou: The Precious Province.
His books are an eye-opener on the difficulties that Christians face in China. Recently, the Chinese government has begun a new crackdown on Christians, including concentration camps, facilitated by the construction of a mass surveillance state.
But this has not deterred Paul, as he's worked with the Chinese Church for more than 30 years.
Paul says: "I have been the beneficiary of a completely lopsided exchange. I handed Jesus my futile existence, and in return He gave me a life of purpose and fulfilment."•
An Asian Harvest (An Autobiography) is published by Monarch Books; Shandong, The Revival Province and Guizhou, The Precious Province, are published by SPCK and all are available through Amazon.