After nearly 30 years of holding Acquire the Fire conferences across America, Teen Mania will take its flagship event a destination off-limits until recently: Myanmar (Burma).

Next might be another closed country even easier to reach: Cuba.

Neither nation has ever ranked among the 25 most popular short-term mission destinations. Instead, both Cuba and Myanmar regularly appear on lists of the world’s worst persecutors.

But recent diplomatic détentes between the Obama administration and the Communist island (in December) and Buddhist nation (in 2013) suggest that Western ministries may soon have an easier time serving both countries.

Long-term missionaries readily acknowledge the benefits of a freer state. But they also express concern that short-term teams might not have the education and tools to positively reach the once-closed countries.

“Just because access is broader doesn’t mean that the ministry that pours in will be effective or necessary,” said Sam Metcalf, president of Church Resource Ministries.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, 83 Western ministries partnered with the Russian Ministry of Education to provide biblically based ethics training in Russia’s public schools. During its 5-year run, CoMission raised more than $60 million to send 1,500 short-term missionaries to implement the program.

However, it rarely consulted long-term missionaries and local believers already behind the Iron Curtain. Though many Russians heard the message of Christ, it came “at a high cost,” wrote Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Donald Fairbairn in an East–West Church and Ministry Report analysis. Their missionary work provoked “the angry ...

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