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Balloons Are Great For Foreign Mission Trips

Ralph Dewey

When it comes to a mission trip icebreaker, giving out balloon animals is at the top of my list. I’ve never found anything to compare with the communication power of a balloon animal. Man, can it really draw in the people! That one little piece of latex seems to be able to transcend cultures and languages.

Most people find that they can easily learn to twist a few animals with only a short amount of training and practice. A lot of people learn out of a book, but the best method would be to have a personal instructor. Each person on the mission trip will need at least three items: a supply of balloons, a good balloon pump and a marker. Since inflating the balloons can be difficult for most people, a pump is pretty much a required piece of equipment for gospel balloon artists. You may want to take a few extra pumps in case of breakage or if they walk off. A black marking pen (Sanford’s Sharpie is a good one) will be needed to mark the faces of the animals and to print Bible verses or gospel slogans. The most common balloon used for twisting animals is the #260 pencil balloon. Two good balloon brands are Qualatex made by Pioneer and Betallic.

The beginning balloon twister should stick with quick and easy balloon creations. Be sure to allow enough time before the mission trip to master at least four balloon animals. Of course a dozen or so balloon creations would be even better. Some of the quickest and easiest animals that you may want to learn could be the basic dog, the swan, the parrot in a hoop, and the basic hat. You can get the instructions for these animals from my book, “Dewey’s Basic Balloon Sculpturing Course” or my DVD, “Dewey’s Basic Balloon Animals”.

The marking pen can be used to mark the eyes, mouth and other features of the animal and also a gospel message in their own language. Two good ones would be, “Jesus Saves” or “God Love You”. Another idea for spreading the gospel is to attach a business-size card to each animal that you make. By punching a hole in one end of the card, you can loop a rubber band through the hole. The rubber band can easily be used to attach the card to the animal. The card could be printed in their language explaining the plan of salvation. The Roman Road would be a good suggestion. Before the trip, make up all of the cards (with rubber bands) that you will need.

Be prepared for your trip. Take all the balloons, extra pumps and marking pens that you could possibly need on the trip. It’s unlikely that you can find a supply of balloons on the mission field. It’s better to have too many balloons than not enough. And besides, if you have any extra, you can always donate them to the local believers so they too can use them for the Lord. As best you can, keep the balloons out of the heat and direct sunlight. If you let them roast out in the sun, they will deteriorate and start popping readily. As with all balloons, keep them stored in a sealed bag to help them stay fresh. Since balloons can be a choking hazard, don’t give them out to babies and toddlers. Don’t throw broken balloons on the ground. Kids will want to get them and try to inflate them or suck on them.

If you are an experienced balloon twister, you may like to present a gospel balloon routine or skit during one of your worship services. I have written a series of books titled, “Dewey’s Gospel Balloon Routines (either #1, 2, 3, 4 or 5).” Even if you do not speak the language, you can use an interpreter to help you present the routine. You will need to remember to speak slowly and in short sentences. Please allow enough time for the interpreter to finish before you start talking again. Be careful not to use idioms in your program like, “Get hooked on Jesus.” Phrases like that will be too difficult to translate.

Another good idea, if you are an experienced balloon twister, is to learn the names of the most common animals in their language. That will help you be able to make a balloon animal of their request. You may also like to learn a few phrases like: “Danger, no balloons in the mouth”, “Stay in line please” and “Which child is next?”

An alternative balloon idea instead of sculptures would be to use 9-inch round balloon to draw caricatures of the children. If you have a little artistic talent, it is fairly easy to do. You can customize the caricature balloon by printing their name on it. For example, if their name is Natasha, you could write, “Jesus loves Natasha” on the balloon. Another alternative is to order custom printed round balloons with “Jesus Saves” in their native language. This would allow you to make a simple caricature on the opposite side.

Because balloon animals are so popular with the kids (and adults), you need to be selective about when to start making them and giving them out. Before you start, be sure that you have enough time to allow for them. Often it seems that children will come out of the woodwork when they discover free balloons. So that brings up another problem, how do you quit? No matter what method you use to quit, those who do not get a balloon will be disappointed. One of the best methods for quitting is to run out of balloons. You do this by carrying a specific number of balloons with you for each outing. Once you’ve used them up, you are out. Please don’t lie about it. Kids have been known to reach into pockets or totes hoping to find balloons. It wouldn’t be good to be caught in a lie. People usually accept the fact that you have run out. Another method is to have your leader announce that it is time to move on. That will work, but it makes the leader the heavy.

It’s good to know when not to make balloon animals. It’s not a good idea to make them just before a sermon or when someone is performing or speaking to the group. Kids will be distracted away from the presentation or from the worship time. Not only that, but kids will make noise playing with the balloons. Balloons squeaking and popping can really be a distraction in a worship service. It’s best to give out the balloons after the worship time. On one mission trip to Brazil, we presented some skits, balloon routines, chalk talks, puppets and singing to a group of children. At the end, the plan of salvation was explained to them. We asked for a show of hands for those wanting to make a decision for Christ. Dozens of hands went up. We explained that those wanting to get saved would be taken to a room and counseled about their decision. The rest of the children would be given balloon animals. We purposely gave them a tough choice, eternal life or a balloon animal. We were looking for genuine professions of faith, not just numbers. While we were counseling the children, we tried to discern if they really understood about accepting Jesus into their hearts. We released some of the children to go get a balloon if they were looking around instead of paying attention. Each child was asked the question, “Why did you come to the counseling room?” If they didn’t know, or if they were thinking that they would get a balloon or if they were just coming along with their sister, we knew that they were not ready.

General Tips For Mission Trips:
  • Before the trip, a leader must be appointed. All who go on the trip are to follow the directions of the leader. Adults on the trip should not be allowed to do their own thing. Each decision must ultimately be made by the leader not by a vote of the group. It is important that teenagers obey the leader too.
  • Mission trips are not an excuse to go shopping. It’s okay if you get a chance to shop or do some sightseeing, but that is NOT the main objective.
  • Be FLEXIBLE and friendly – Don’t fret over schedule changes, inconveniences or how hot it is. You may need to learn how to drink soft drinks that are hot without complaining. Shaving and bathing may be in a grass hut or in a stream. Learn to adapt to your situation. Remember Philippians 2:14. Be sure to eat what the local Christians feed you. It would be a great insult to refuse their meals. And please don’t make sour faces while eating it. You may find flies nesting in a child’s hair or toilets without lids, paper or water. No matter what you encounter, be flexible and friendly.
  • Be careful of making cutting jokes, snide remarks or criticisms about the country, your accommodations or how backward the people are. You never know when one of the local people standing around listening to you may speak perfect English.
  • Don’t be shocked or repelled by what you discover in third world countries. In one village there was a man with a withered hand. He was in line with the other villagers as they greeted us on our arrival. I saw his withered hand as he extended it and I shook it. And so did several others in our group. But one of our ladies extended her hand, then noticed his. She then jerked her hand away. She was not about to shake a withered hand. I was embarrassed by her conduct. We are to be ambassadors for Christ, so we need to act accordingly.
  • If you have a mission trip planned, then you discover that most of the people can’t go, don’t cancel your trip if at all possible. Once a village knows that you will be coming, they will be greatly disappointed if no one shows up. It is better for just one person to go rather than to cancel it once the trip has been announced.
  • Leave supplies (such as balloons, pumps or books) with the local Christians if you can. One way to multiply your ministry is to train the local Christians how to use gospel balloons like you do.

    Balloons can be very effective for drawing a crowd of children or presenting the gospel on a mission trip. But remember that balloon sculptures are just a tool. Jesus should be your main focus.


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