What is Creative Access?
The majority of the world’s remaining unreached people groups live in Creative Access Nations (CANs), and this includes the majority of the Mien in Southeast Asia. Creative Access refers to locations where open access is not granted to missionaries or Christian evangelists. As a result, missionaries must be creative in how they obtain access to unreached people in these locations. In the past, many countries around the world offered “missionary visas.” These were visas dedicated to foreign missionaries who would live, work and minister in the country. A number of countries around the world still issue them. A government that offered missionary visas effectively opened their doors to the gospel and all the development projects missionaries would find themselves in. These countries became known as “open countries.” (continue reading after the map)
Other countries do not offer missionary visas, though they might not be opposed to Christianity. Still, there are many countries in the world today that do not want to see their people become Christians. As a result, not only do they not offer missionary visas, but they also restrict evangelism and Christian activity within their borders. There was a period of time in the history of missions when missionaries and churches called such locations “closed” countries. And for many, their imagination ended there. These countries were closed and so there was no way to get the gospel in. It was settled. The only thing we could do was to pray that it would open up. But now and then outside Christians would hear reports of the gospel spreading in these closed countries and that people were coming to the Lord. Many started to realize that although these countries were closed to traditional missionaries, they were not closed to God. God was still working his miracles and plans behind the closed borders.
Finally, Christians started to realize that outsiders, even Christians, could travel and work in those countries as businessmen, teachers, students and development workers—just not as traditional missionaries. The amount of restriction varied from country to country, but ministry in these “closed” countries could be done quietly, secretly and underground. We realized that these countries are not closed at all to God’s workers, but that his people would have to use creative methods to access, live and work in those locations. These countries became known as Restricted Access Nations or Creative Access Nations (CANs). In our world today, out of more than 200 countries, more than 80 can be considered Creative Access Nations. Of course, there are a wide range of restrictions from place to place, some countries mildly opposing extensive Christian witness, while other countries actively seek to stamp out Christianity altogether. The majority of these countries are Islamic or Communist. Three of the four countries in Southeast Asia where the Mien live, China, Laos and Vietnam, are creative access countries. Thailand is much more open to Christianity.