Monday, August 18, 2014

On a Mission to Love on KIDS!

Last month I went on my first missions trip with a team from my church, to Estonia!  We went to help Nick & Olivia Pucinni and their team of missionaries who are planting a new church in Tallinn.  While this wasn't your typical missions trip to a third world, I think that fact that Estonia is so high tech and well developed makes it a particularly hard country to reach. 


I could go on and on about so many aspects of this trip, but since this is a face painting & balloon twisting blog, I'll try to focus on these parts of the trip, in case it might be helpful for others looking to do balloons & face painting on a missions trip!

This was the first time our church has done an adults-only trip, and when I heard it was going to focus on children's ministries, I immediately thought about offering up my balloon twisting and face painting skills.  It seemed so impossible...flying across the world for 10 days, having never left my 2 little boys for more than 2 nights, and during my busiest season of the year! It took me many months to give into the tugging on my heart to go! When I finally messaged our team leader to see if they could use me, I found out they had just talking about asking me to train them in on face painting and balloons for their trip. Everything fell perfectly into place.  I mean EVERYTHING.  It was clearly meant to be.

Balloon training session!
 
Qualifying the Called...
 
I know that they always say "God doesn't call the qualified...He qualifies the called," and I feel like that's what happened in the months leading up to the trip. The team in Estonia asked us to prepare a "human video" (skit) aimed at kids, with no words. You know, those skits that the youth groups put together for church? Yup, now imagine a bunch of adults over 35 doing a human video! But first you have to perform it twice in front of your own church congregation on a Sunday morning! Sayonara, inhibitions! One of our teammates was our youth leader's wife, and a very talented dancer & choreographer. With her direction we were able to pull it off! Yes, He even got me, an introverted homebody, to leave the country for 10 days and perform a human video in front of a crowd!

"Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."
- 2 Timothy 2:15 

The men on our trip also remarked about how when they hear about an adult missions trip, they expect to be using their hands doing construction building churches. Instead, they became some of our amazing balloon twisters! I was used to help qualify the rest of the team to do face painting and balloons which they had never done before. We all left our comfort zones many, many, many miles away!

A few months before the trip, I held a couple training sessions for our team (8 including me).  The team got a crash course in balloons and face painting at just 1 hour each!  I put together some step by step sheets with designs from one of my books, and found out who the popular Estonian cartoon characters are so we could include them in our design selection.  We pulled together some pumps & paints from our church's stash and my own paints to give everyone some supplies to practice with up until the trip. 

Practicing!

My 6 yr old Sam was a great helper, teaching balloon dog twisting! I totally would have brought him along if it weren't an adults only trip!
We also did a little test run painting kids at church one night, because there's nothing like painting on and twisting for real kids to practice!

Look at everyone go!  They made a lot of kids smile! :-)
It was hard for me to pare down my huge kit of bells and whistles, but I think I managed to reduce our "stuff" to the bare minimum needed to still produce some awesome fun with up to 6 artists or 4 balloon twisters at a time!  I tried to package everything into bags that would be easy to split up amongst our luggage, without taking up too much of our personal packing space. I packed my own balloon apron and pump in my bag as well, and carried on a paint set.

The supplies we brought for face painting (minus one Paradise palette...we brought 3).  I brought a few dark wash cloths, makeup remover wipes, a collapsible water jug, collapsible water cups, several unbreakable mirrors, 2 12-color Paradise palettes, 1 30-color Paradise palette, a couple spray bottles, a bunch of round Loew-Cornell brushes, and design sheets.  To help save the team some money, I bought some of the supplies myself that I thought I could use afterwards in my business, but the paint, brushes, balloons & pumps were purchased with some of the team's fundraiser money and will be used again at future events at the church! Owning an online store of course also saved the team as we got everything for wholesale! We were able to bless the team in Estonia by leaving one palette behind for them to use at their future events as well.

Here are all of the balloons we brought, compacted into large ziploc bags! We brought over 1,000 balloons and ended up using almost all of them. All of these are the Qualatex 260Q's, with the exception of one bag of hearts for princess wands! I figured out we got more balloons for our money purchasing them by individual color, vs the same # of balloons in multi-colored bags. 

These are the design sheets that we used.  We stuck to cheek art which worked great for our team of new painters! The three animal characters on the right side are Bruno, Lotte and Adalbert, from a popular cartoon in Estonia.  We printed these out at church and I slipped them into sheet protectors for a super lightweight solution for design boards.

Everyone took some balloons and/or some paint supplies so we had them all spread out among our checked luggage, in case anything got lost in transit (which it didn't, PTL!).  The paint palettes, however, we all carried on the plane since they were the bulk of our expenses!

I bought a couple shoulder bags from Goodwill and one tool belt from Amazon, to equip 3 of the team members with balloons!  To dress them up a bit and to cover up some logos, I made little felt patches with balloon dogs on them.  I think they worked out pretty well!  Each bag had a pump attached as well. 

We did a LOT of walking!! I found it easiest to just wear my belt around the city, and then I carried a backpack with water, my camera, rain poncho, and other supplies.  
My load, unloaded! (on a chair at a restaurant for lunch...which tipped over once when I got up! ha!)

We helped to put on a 3-day kids' day camp (more commonly known as VBS here in the US) at a public park.  Each morning we set up the tents, tables, games, etc, and each afternoon we took everything down.  It was very cool holding VBS in a public setting, as we drew kids in from the park.  Each day the group of kids grew!

This is where we painted for three days during "Kids' Day Camp!"  The table was set up for two painters, and when it got busy we were able to add a third painter in the middle.  We had enough supplies that we could utilize up to 6 painters if needed.
Here are the "belt ladies!" We were SO super fortunate that our team leader also happens to be an awesome, award winning professional photographer!  It was really great to have our trip so beautifully recorded.  (I've put watermarks on the following that were photos taken by Erin Johnson)

Me in my balloon belt, and Erin with her camera belt!


of course I had to paint a camera on our photographer!! ;-)

I have to say, I was so impressed with our team and how well they took to the balloons and face painting, having never done it before!  Everyone jumped right in and did a fabulous job.  I'm so proud to have been a part of this team!

The registration table!









We loved on lots of kids...


 ...induced a lot of smiles...


 ...gave grandparents permission to play...



...we left our mark...



...on young and old....


...People who had never done balloons before drew in crowds...


...We stepped way out of our comfort zones...

 
...as kids poured into the tents...



...Daycare groups passing by joined in on the fun...


 ...and the balloons caused eruptions of FUN and interaction!


I originally thought that the balloons and face painting would add one small bit of entertainment to VBS, helping to entertain and distract the kids in between the "real" missionaries' work, but they really were so much more powerful of a tool than I ever imagined.

In addition to the kids' camp, we also utilized balloon twisting while handing out flyers with information about the church's free Zumba classes, basketball games, kids' camp and services. 


me twisting balloons on the street!
Let's face it...we all tend to do the same thing when we see someone on the street with flyers coming towards us...we veer to the other side of the street to avoid them!  People do the opposite when they see someone twisting balloons from across the street. Balloons really helped us open doors to hand out flyers.  People could see them from across a large park and were intrigued.  They happily took flyers when paired with fun balloon sculptures!

handing out a flyer and a fishing pole!

A couple sisters in the park - taking photos with their balloons.

I made a few balloons for kids on the bus too. (photo by the fabulous Song Anfinson)  The kids start riding public transportation by themselves to go to school in kindergarten!
Challenges...

Here are some of the challenges with face painting and balloon twisting we came across, which might be helpful to those planning on doing something similar:

Language barrier...there actually wasn't too much of a barrier as kids start learning English in 1st grade and most people speak English in Estonia. The design sheets made it simple for kids to just point to what they wanted, both for face painting and balloons.  But, we did end up having to print signs in Estonian that said "one per child" for the face painting the 2nd day as we were pretty steady busy!

Restroom Access...there were outhouses at the park but when you paint, you need running water.  While some restrooms are free around Tallinn, many of them you have to pay to use. There was a children's museum at the park and we paid to use their restroom a couple times.  I'm really glad I brought that collapsible water jug, because we were able to fill it up and then use it all day at our table without returning to the restroom.

Heat & Sun...the weather was really remarkably beautiful the whole trip! An 80% chance of rain was actually forecasted during our kids' camp but we didn't have a drop! However, our stash of balloons often found their way out into the sunshine on the grass, which quickly degrades the latex.  I was able to keep my apron in the shade under the face painting table while I was painting, and I think that helped them to last a little longer.  However, by the end of the trip the balloons were popping pretty easily.  It wasn't really practical to bring a big cooler and ice packs but if I did it again, I'd maybe bring a soft sided cooler and get ice there for storage, and maybe stress that the balloon twisters stick to the shady areas or at least store the main stash of balloons in shade.  But all in all, the balloons lasted just long enough to do everything we needed them for, and our face painting table stayed shady under the trees!

As you can see, the trip went amazing well with these being our only challenges...we really couldn't have asked for anything more.  My only wish is that we could have done the kids' camp for MORE days than 3, as our crowd grew every day!

Wrapping it up...

I had a fantastic time in Estonia, and have thought about the trip every day since.  The city is amazingly beautiful, and was especially inspirational to the artist in me!

some of the many unique colors & textures of Tallinn

collage of some of the many unique doors! If you like this collage, I have a Cafepress shop now open, where you can purchase items with this image.  100% of the proceeds go to support the Tallinn Project!
We were fortunate enough to be able to see a lot of the city.  I took over 1,000 photos over 10 days!




Everywhere you turn in Tallinn, it's like walking through an oil painting.  But Estonia is considered one of the most Godless countries in the world.  84% of Estonians believe that God does not exist. Only 1.2% of native Estonians attend evangelical churches.  (the number is less than 1% among those under age 40) Not so coincidentally, they are among the world leaders in depression, suicide, babies born out of wedlock, and new cases of HIV.  So how do you tell someone who has a beautiful & modern home, fancy car, the latest fashion, lives amongst so much beauty, and has everything this world has to offer, that they need something more?  For us, it was planting small seeds by loving on kids, simple yet powerful interactions with adults, and random acts of kindness throughout the city.
 
“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.  These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”
- Isaiah 42:16-17

I just had to share this short video clip below of one of my favorite moments of kids' camp!  This is Jim, a pilot and air traffic controller who would have been much more in his element had he been building something! However, by stepping out of his comfort zone and putting on a smile and a silly balloon hat, he made some awesome connections with kids.  This little girl doesn't speak any English, but you can see here that laughter knows no language barriers!

video
 
There were so many little moments like this on the trip. We may not have built any tangible things.  The face paintings have long been washed off, and balloons are either shriveled or popped by now.  But we were able to look into the faces of the kids we touched, plant a tiny seed, and leave a lasting impression on so many little lives!

Thank you so much to all of my amazing customers and clients who supported my business, in turn supporting my trip.  (And thank you for your patience as I closed my shop for 10 days!)  Please pray for the people of Estonia, the Puccinis and their team!  Thanks so much for your interest and taking the time to read my recap...happy painting, wherever you do it!  :-)




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