Dogwood Festival Children’s Zone features balloon storytellers

Balloon storytellers Dennis Yeatts (left) and Jennifer McReynolds will be featured in the Dogwood Festival Children’s Zone on April 28. They are shown telling the story of donning the “Armor of God” at a children’s gathering on a mission trip to Zambia last year.

Balloon storytellers Dennis Yeatts and Jennifer McReynolds will be featured in the Children’s Zone at the Vinton Dogwood Festival on Saturday, April 28. They will be performing at the Vinton Farmers’ Market at 11:30 a.m.

McReynolds will tell the story from Ephesians 6: 10-18 of putting on the full “Armor of God,” while Yeatts recreates the symbols from the story by tying balloons representing the Helmet of Salvation, the Shield of Faith, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Shoes of the Gospel of Peace, the Belt of Truth, and the Sword of the Spirit. All children who attend will receive a balloon creation to take home.

The children’s activities, located in the Farmers’ Market area, are once again organized and coordinated by Debbie Marsh and other volunteers from Mineral Springs Baptist Church.

From 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. there will be bouncy houses and obstacle courses from “Let’s Party” of Vinton, “Love” themed crafts, a petting zoo from Little Critters, face painting, games, and some pretty amazing door prizes. The most impressive is a $200 Yeti cooler donated by the Northwest Hardware Corporation. There are also some giant-sized stuffed animals and other items donated by local businesses.

Everyone is invited to register for prizes at the Mineral Springs Baptist Church booth in the Farmers’ Market area, where they will also be giving away free popcorn and water.

Marsh says the “Love” theme crafts were inspired by the new LOVE sign recently installed at the Vinton War Memorial, except that the children’s crafts will be based on John 3:16— “For God so loved the world.” There are several craft activities including constructing a bird feeder with a heart symbol. The activities are appropriate for all ages.

Games will include a Cupcake Walk and a bean bag game in which the bags are tossed into the “O” of “LOVE.”

Yeatts and McReynolds (she is his nephew’s wife) participated in a mission trip to Zambia last year with the independent “Come, Go with Us” missionary organization based in Myrtle Beach, S.C. During a Saturday Good News Club meeting for children there, McReynolds shared the story of the Armor of God, while Yeatts tied balloons of the symbols of faith. A youngster stood on a stool as a model as Yeatts dressed him with the balloon pieces of armor as the story progressed.

As for how he became a balloon artist, Yeatts said he taught himself while on vacation in Myrtle Beach. He stopped by a magic shop, spied a balloon tying kit, thought “I could do that,” purchased the kit, and mastered the technique.

Balloon art seems to have a magnetic attraction for children. In just a short time at his hotel while he was practicing his new skill, the pool emptied of children who flocked around his chair to watch him tie the balloons into various shapes.

He says that in Zambia, he attracted a crowd of about 70 children in a matter of moments, eager to see him tie the balloons and hoping they would receive one.

Yeatts uses a double action hand pump to inflate the balloons. He took along three or four hand pumps on the mission trip and 270 balloons for the two weeks they were there.

He hopes to return to Zambia again next year for a three-month stay and plans to ship 700-800 balloons along with supplies and several pumps for that trip ahead of time.

The Armor of God story Yeatts and McReynolds tell as their own form of ministry is based on the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Ephesians on spiritual warfare. Paul says that although there is a spiritual battle raging around each of us, believers need not fear. Each person is equipped by Jesus with the full spiritual armor of God.

Leaders and founders of the “Come, Go with Us” organization are missionaries Ken and Karen Buckner. The non-profit was established in 2009 with the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission, following the command of Jesus to “go and to preach.” The Buckners have been serving the people of Zambia in south-central Africa since 2008.

Dennis Yeatts taught himself balloon art on a trip to Myrtle Beach and will be sharing his talents at the Dogwood Festival on April 28 in the Children’s Zone, sponsored by Mineral Springs Baptist Church.

Karen Buckner is from Myrtle Beach. As a child she heard a missionary speak about the mission field in Africa and from then on wanted to be one of them. She had experience as an assistant teacher in a Christian school and as a “home-school Mom” that has served her well in the mission field.

Ken Buckner grew up in Gatlinburg, Tenn. After college, he spent 31 years as an engineer and then became an entrepreneur in the unique field of automotive action photography. While on a two-week mission trip with their Myrtle Beach church to an orphanage in Zambia in 2008, he felt the call to ministry and suggested to his wife that they become full-time missionaries there. She had been experiencing that same call.

The Buckners served as resident missionaries at the Global Samaritan’s Children’s Home from 2009-2013 before working independently in the Bush country. Their organization now invites groups and individuals to consider a two-week or even a lifetime ministry in Zambia.

Zambia is a country over twice the size of Texas and is the location of Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Zambia has a population of 12.6 million, mostly living in poverty with the ninth highest rate of AIDS deaths in the world. The people rank first in the world in the probability of not reaching age 40. While they have proclaimed themselves to be a Christian nation, there is still much witchcraft and animism.

“Come, Go with Us” focuses mainly on Bush ministry through evangelism, church planting, pastor training, discipleship, and children’s ministry.

More information on missions in Zambia can be found at

Yeatts and McReynolds both live in Vinton. She was originally from Arizona where she met Yeatts’s nephew. Yeatts is retired but works part-time for Northwest Hardware and for Simpson Funeral Home.

This year’s Dogwood Festival opens on Wednesday, April 25, and runs through Sunday, April 29. Cole Shows Amusement Carnival returns this year at the old William Byrd ball field, opening at 6 nightly Wednesday through Friday, on Saturday from noon to 11 p .m, and on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

The highlight of the annual Dogwood Festival is on Saturday, April 28, with the crowning of the Dogwood Festival Queen at the Vinton Memorial at noon and the parade at 2:30 leading off from the War Memorial. There are Dogwood activities throughout the downtown area on that day, including those at the Children’s Zone.

more recommended stories