Good things from small packages

Ministry mobilizes minority groups in Asia to reach their neighbors

by Lee Cuesta

The inaccessibility of many areas in Asia to outsiders has prompted a “strategic and fresh approach” by a ministry known as Asian Minorities Outreach. Paul Hattaway, AMO’s founder, is training Christians from Asian minority groups, who can penetrate the unreached groups in order to evangelize and train others. “What’s exciting to me is the very interesting strategy that Paul is developing now,” proclaims Meg Crossman, Director of Perspectives Partnership in Arizona, “finding minority tribes that have come to know the Lord, and using them to try to get into these minority groups. To me, that’s the strategic and fresh approach that AMO is taking.”
Hattaway says, “It is working, especially well in Myanmar and Vietnam. We have seen about 15 groups penetrated with the Gospel for the first time just in the last 18 months to two years.” Earlier, he was involved with a “discipleship house,” located in southern China. That ministry resulted in church-planting for the first time among five minority groups in China. “Most of the training we do now is in the form of seminars,” Hattaway adds, “where we teach the believers about who the unreached are, why we should go to them, and then we mobilize them to do so.”
This ministry represents one of the more significant breakthroughs in AMO’s ten-year history. Hattaway started China Minorities Outreach in 1988, and later changed the name to reflect his expanding vision. For about three years, he was AMO’s sole, full-time worker. A native of Auckland, New Zealand, Hattaway has commented that his listeners “may struggle to understand” him, due to “a thick New Zealand accent.” But it was in Australia that he became a Christian, at the age of 19. Almost simultaneously, he responded to the call of cross-cultural ministry. “He got saved and then took the Bible literally that says ‘go ye into all the world with the gospel.’ And he packed up and went to Hong Kong,” says Gary Thomas, controller at the Valley Cathedral in Phoenix, which has been involved with AMO since 1993.
In Hong Kong, Hattaway met his future wife, Joy, who comes from the state of Idaho. They were married in 1994, and in that same year they moved the office to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand.
“We use Thailand as a base because it is so close to all the surrounding restricted countries, and is the only nation in the region where missionaries are legally allowed to reside,” Hattaway explains. “Within one hour of our office we can be in Myanmar (formerly Burma), Laos, China, or Vietnam. Our call we feel is to those closed countries where missionaries are banned.”
Thus, AMO’s official slogan expresses, “Assisting in the salvation of Asia’s ethnic minorities who are the most unreached and the least helped.” In fact, one of AMO’s unique characteristics is its emphasis on the smaller minority groups. “When I first met him,” Crossman remembers, “we were talking about the minority groups of China, and he told me, ‘A lot of the agencies are targetting the big groups; so I’m going to target the littlest groups. And then, as we work through each of them, we’ll meet in the middle.’ He’s concerned for the little groups so they don’t get overlooked.”
“Paul helps smuggle a lot of Bibles into those (restricted) countries,” says Phil Swisher, who operates AMO’s U.S.A. office from his Texas home. AMO’s stated purpose for this aspect of its ministry is to deliver Bibles “in national and tribal languages.” Summer teams commonly assist Hattaway in this work.
One team of 20 from Valley Cathedral, including Thomas and his entire family, flew into Ho Chi Minh City in June, 1996. Trying not to arouse suspicion, they divided their group in half, entering the airport on two, different days. They pretended not to know each other, and interspersed themselves among the Asians waiting in line. “But when we got to the immigration line,” Thomas recalls, “we were the only ones who were given an additional form to fill out. So by the time the form was filled out, we were the only ones left to go through immigration after all.” Even so, not a single copy of the Bibles they were carrying was confiscated.
“The whole aim of tribal Bible delivery is to equip a people group who have some presence of Christians -- who can read and already have some of the Scriptures in their language -- with the Word of God,” according to Hattaway, “so that they may grow in strength and understanding, and in their desire to go and reach those peoples who have not heard, who live nearby. This has worked very well in every country.”
Another benefit resulting from that ministry is that Hattaway’s contact with the minority groups has fueled his work in research and writing. “Our desire is to provide quality information to the missions world on these lesser-known people groups,” Hattaway explains. “Almost everyone in the western world knows who the Tibetans are. Why? Because there is a lot of information about them. But how many people have heard of the Tujia People of China? There are actually more Tujia people than there are Tibetans, but due to lack of information few have heard of the Tujia, and fewer still received a call to reach them with the Gospel.”
“He is getting people to begin to think about these,” observes Crossman. “Five years ago, who’d even heard the names of these groups? He’s not only done a good job gathering the information, but also, in terms of mobilization, he’s doing a great job presenting it.”
“We send out prayer profiles (free of charge) that highlight the needs of different unreached people groups we are in contact with,” Hattaway continues. “We see this as one of the most important aspects of our ministry.” By compiling fifty of these “people profiles,” AMO published a prayer book entitled The 50 Most Unreached People Groups of China and Tibet. These “people profiles,” all of which Hattaway himself writes, may also be obtained at AMO’s web site. The Internet address is <>.
In addition, a second, larger book that profiles more than 340 people groups and tribes of China is almost complete. William Carey University Press plans to release this book, called The Peoples of China: Precious in God’s Sight, sometime within the next six months.
Although AMO began ten years ago as a one-man operation, other workers eventually joined Hattaway and assisted the ministry. “For several years now, others like Dwayne Graybill have done the main share of the work, travel, and training on the field,” Hattaway says. And now AMO is poised to take one of the biggest steps in its history. AMO has joined Youth With A Mission and is now part of YWAM’s Center for Oriental Ministries (COM). “The COM is still in the process of being set up in Chiang Mai, and AMO will be coming under it,” according to Sam Sarvis, recently appointed as acting director for YWAM Thailand. “The director (of COM) is Johnny Buckner. YWAM Thailand is glad to have the Center for Oriental Ministries moving here, and we’re helping facilitate their getting set up. However, as their focus is more regional, and ours is Thailand specifically, we will be working more or less as separate entities.”
“We are part of an office of about 20 workers here,” Hattaway explains, “although we also work with more than 200 national evangelists and workers. Plans are to have more than 500 full-time workers focusing on ministry to unreached people groups in the region by the year 2000.”
Paul Hattaway’s heart embraces these minority groups in Asia, such as the Khmu people of Laos, among whom one evangelist was arrested by the local police, publicly bound with a chain, and forced into a pit in the ground for four days. Barbed wire was placed over the entrance of the pit to prevent his escape. But following this incident, the Khmu church in that village grew to 400! Hattaway is described as “a big trunk of a man, but very gentle and soft-spoken,” by Swisher, his Texan colleague, who says, “Paul is a wonderful brother of integrity. He has incredible knowledge, almost a photographic mind, and focused on the unreached of that area. When you roam around the world awhile, you become, if you’re not careful, a little bit of a skeptic about what you hear and see. But this brother is so refreshing because it’s none of that. That’s why I’m involved with him.”

Copyright © 1997 by Lee Cuesta

This article was written on assignment for Pulse, and was published as the cover story on March 20, 1998.