I have always found hot air balloons to be fascinating! Over the past several years, a local event in our community that my wife Janet and I have always enjoyed is The Great Forest Park Balloon Race. It’s not every day that you see a single hot air balloon, much less over 70 hot air balloons in one place. It is truly a fun and unique event, and something to behold!
The Great Forest Park Balloon Race is an annual hot air balloon festival held in Forest Park in St. Louis, Missouri. With more than 70 entrants and 130,000 spectators, it is the most well-attended single-day hot air balloon race in the United States. The Great Forest Park Balloon Race was founded by renowned balloonists Nikki Caplan and John O’Toole in 1973, and taken over by four, young, enthusiastic balloonists: John Marlow, John Schaumburg, Dan Schettler and Ted Staley in 1977. What started with four newly certified balloonists and a whimsical group dubbed the Mississippi River Balloon Transit Company, today hails as the organization of the most well-attended, single-day balloon race in the country.
The race, celebrating its 42nd anniversary this year, is unique in that it originates from the middle of a major city, St. Louis. Attendance is free to more than 150,000 spectators who come out to watch 70 world-class balloon pilots compete in a race that is almost as exciting from the ground as it is in the air. During the race, the balloonists attempt to “chase” a 166-foot balloon of a pink bunny (The Energizer Bunny Balloon) after taking off from the Central Fields in Forest Park.
On the day before the race, the hot air balloons participate in the Balloon Glow, a night glow opportunity for spectators to walk among inflated balloons illuminated by their burners. The Balloon Glow is something of true beauty. In the darkness of the night, massive crowds of people pass through the field where the hot air balloons are anchored to the ground waiting for them to burst into a lighted and glowing picture of stunning beauty. Throughout the evening, at intervals of somewhere around 5 to ten minutes, a loud horn is sounded to signal the balloon pilots to fire up their balloons. Seeing over 70 hot air balloons suddenly lighting up to pierce through the darkness is something of breath-taking beauty. Just for a few moments, it makes everyone forget that they are walking through a crowd in the dark, and somehow makes onlookers forget the problems of the day as they bask in the beauty of the massive glowing hot air balloons.
My wife and I decided that we would not miss the Balloon Glow this year, so we made it a point to make our way to the place where all the balloons were waiting like ships in a harbor at night. As my wife and I walked among the hot air balloons and waded our way through the dense crowd of people, a thought occurred to me. How much was this like life? Something in me stirred within my spirit and spoke a message to me than I needed to be reminded of. We walk through a world full of people that are wandering through the dark in search of something of true beauty. People are looking for something or someone that will provide a means for them to forget the darkness for a moment, forget their troubles and problems momentarily, and focus on the beauty at hand. As I reflected on what I was seeing among the lighted balloons, I was reminded of a passage of scripture from the Bible that brings the “Balloon Glow” experience into a perspective that I could apply to life. In the Living Bible Translation of the Bible in Matthew the 5th chapter, the wording is so applicable when it says, “You are the world’s light—a city on a hill, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father.” ( Matthew 5:14-16 Living Bible) Wow! We as a body of believers in Christ are to be a “city on a hill, glowing in the night for all to see”, and we are to “let our good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise our heavenly Father.”
Now let me bring this home to you and I. We are surrounded by multitudes of people on a daily basis that are wandering through the dark, just waiting for a sudden burst of light and hope. There are people who are sinking in the oceans of despair, depression, addictions, and hopelessness. We have to be the burst of light and beauty for them that shouts the message and reminds them that all hope is not lost. We have to be connected to God just as the hot air balloons are connected to propane so that the glowing flames can be seen. As we stay connected to God, we will periodically burst into a glowing representation of God’s light and grace to a lost and dying world. We all have friends, family members, and co-workers that are waiting for something of beauty that will permeate the darkness of their life and restore hope to their life. All of us are dependent upon the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, for without him, there truly is no hope. The good news is that thanks be to God, Jesus said that He came to give us life and to give it to us more abundantly! Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (New Living Translation) We can be vessels that radiate the glowing light and grace of Christ to a world that is desperately seeking a message of hope. It’s funny how something as unexpected as a hot air balloon can remind you of what you were really called to do. We are all called to be a “glow” of God’s love, mercy, and grace. There is a world of people walking around waiting for the glow of God’s love to burst forth into their lives. What are you waiting for? Fire up the balloon!
Thanks for reading,
Until next time,