When Dan Bellamy was preparing for a missions trip to Jamaica during his senior year of high school, he was introduced to the art of balloon sculpting. He was only going to pick up a few tricks from his instructor (a professional clown), but soon the student surpassed the teacher and a new interest and eventual career in ministry was born.
“I had no expectations of making it more than a hobby during college or long after college. You know, it crossed my mind during seminary, but I never really took it seriously.”
Now in the midst of 2020’s global pandemic, Certified Balloon Artist and Doctor of Ministry, “Dr. Dan,” has been adapting the work of his ministry, Inflatable Stories, while effectively carrying out his personal mission, which is to reach people of all ages with the Gospel.
“None of us thought to put a pandemic clause in the contract! I’ve agreed to be there and for my part I’m going to be there…we’re working with churches to make it possible to reschedule. But the biggest thing I’ve been doing is creating videos. There’s some long-term value to having the videos. I want that to be something where parents who love it can kick in and support me and have something beneficial for their kids. I’m making sure I keep at least one or two videos of stories available for anybody who hops over to Patreon. I’m making every story available for at least a little while.
“A lot of people have wisely canceled camps this summer, which is hard on everybody. I’ve been working with some churches to create an appealing online Vacation Bible School. I customize them to their events, and we have live question and answer times. I’ve got a church next month that we just ordered 285 balloon pumps for and they’re going to distribute those kits to all the kids who ‘come’ to their Vacation Bible School. We’re going to have a balloon class for them so they can have an online crafts time.”
So, how did Dan know that balloon sculpting would serve as the bedrock for God’s plans for his future? He didn’t. At least, not at first. What started as a an interest became a passion and continued to grow. While attending seminary at Baylor University in Texas, Dan booked a program at his first large event. It was so well received, the church hosting it asked him to return the following year. But when a friend soon connected him to his current booking agency, Reach Your City, Dan wasn’t quite ready to commit to the venture full time. He wanted to focus on his job as a youth minister.
“It wasn’t time then, but I came to a transition point three or four years ago and I was trying to figure out where God would take me next – I was praying about ‘what next?’ Around that same time I had a balloon conference. Balloons had been in the background for years. And, you know, I realized that the only path forward that felt right to me was to pursue this direction. I ended up calling [the agency] back up and going, ‘Hey, we spoke years ago, are you still interested in working with me?’ So I sent over a very old video and that began our journey.”
This season of forced downtime has been anything but that for Dan. Besides completely renovating his home (to include space for balloon production), he has also been reaching out to and offering his services to those friends and churches who supported him before Inflatable Stories became what it is today. He hopes to “try to help [them] keep some momentum,” especially those who might be in a tough financial situation due to the pandemic.
Balloons are not just a career tool. They are a part of Dan’s daily life, a way to reach out to the strangers around him and perhaps take the opportunity to present the Gospel in an unobtrusive manner.
“I’ll usually carry a balloon with me on my key chain – of course, courtesy of the pandemic I’m not bothering right now – so that I’m ready if somebody is having a bad day or something. I’ve got a few cool stories that have happened with kids being upset about getting on airplanes because they were separated from their parents. We made a sweet little friend on the train in Scotland. You’re sitting with people for a while on trains, and you have conversations.”
Having travelled the world perfecting his craft as he photographed various Bible story sculptures in locations spanning the United States, the Scottish Highlands in search of Loch Ness (the lake, not the monster), and the giant tortoise habitat of Ecuador’s Galápagos Islands, Dan became adept at finding inspiration for his books in any setting. He is looking forward to August when he hopes to travel to Oregon for a gig. The drive across the country and the Pacific Northwest will provide scenic backdrops for another book, though his next one on the Nativity story is already in its planning stage.
Dan regularly posts new content on Patreon, where you can financially support his work and gain access to special offers. He also stays active on Inflatable Stories’ social media channels where you’ll see his skills progress as he invites viewers to join him on adventures. His sculptures may have started with simple one-balloon creatures, but the pages of his books are filled human figures, exotic animals, and intricate architectural structures. Skydiving while sculpting, climbing inside – yes, inside – of a balloon, and a roller coaster challenge are just a few of the ways he is engaging his audience.
His live audience consists mainly of kids and young teens, but all ages connect with both the material presentation and the message.
“There are groups of older teenagers who absolutely love it, but they’re a tough crowd because if you get just a few people with the ‘balloons are for kids’ mindset, then that can be the most difficult thing to win over. I’ve had youth groups that I’ve spoken for that have absolutely loved it and responded really, really well. But with kids and family programs, it’s consistently really effective. The adults don’t mind engaging with it.”
“We’re all a little bit kids at heart and we all want to have fun while we learn. I would periodically pull out Max Lucado’s children’s books for my youth groups and my college students, because books like You Are Special communicate such basic truths in such a powerful way. Getting the core truth of something is often similar at any age.”
Because of his years of experience working with youth, I asked Dan if he had any wisdom to share on how to talk with kids about the global pandemic.
“Part of it is focusing on the big picture of the story. And sometimes you leave out some of the gruesome details. Like, I love to tell the story of David and Goliath. It’s a powerful story of God using small, ordinary people to do big things. But I leave out the part about David cutting Goliath’s head off.
“Every kid is going to be different. But I would say, focus on the positive stuff and you can leave out the details that just aren’t going to be helpful for the kids. Be a source of comfort in your tone and your attitude because kids pick it up.
“I feel like that’s one reason balloons are so helpful. You can talk about a really hard story, but the balloons lighten up the severity of the story, because there’s such a natural joy to balloons. There’s a whimsy and excitement and fun to balloons.”
Dan’s books are available through InflatableStories.com. Use the coupon code CBNAdamandEveDeal through the end of August to receive 50% off the hardcover edition of The Twisted Tale of Adam and Eve. Learn more about booking Dan and Inflatable Stories for an event below: