The Gospel Blimp is the story of a handful of well-meaning Christians who have come together to reach out to their unbelieving neighbors. Their solution? A sign-toting, tract-dropping blimp. This excerpt picks up in the middle of the story, after the blimp’s disastrous first run.

It must have been a frightening experience—the jolt, the hissing sound, and the descent. In a few minutes the blimp came to rest, sort of wedged between two houses.

I wish I’d been there to see those two women come running out of their front doors. One of them called the fire department.

“I’ve gotten cats out of trees and kids out of bathrooms, but this is the first time I’ve gotten two guys off a blimp,” this fireman in charge of the truck said, according to Herm. Herm says he used some other language, too, which provided the opportunity for a witness.

It took a few weeks to get the blimp back in shape again. Meanwhile, we’d gotten prepared for the long haul. By that I mean we learned a lesson from that first day. This job wouldn’t be done overnight. There would be opposition; the Enemy had already tried to ruin the blimp.

So we started prayer meetings for the safety of the blimp and those whose lives would be constantly endangered by flying in it. These prayer meetings were held downtown each noon hour for those of us who could come, in the International Gospel Blimps, Inc., office. (I forgot to tell you we’d rented three rooms in the Bender Building.) Thursdays we didn’t meet there, since that was the day of the businessmen’s lunch. But we spent a good bit of time in prayer at the lunch, too.

The wives had their prayer meeting every Tuesday night. They combined their praying with work on these fire bombs they were filling.

But I’m getting ahead of my story.

After the rip in the blimp was repaired, Herm got the thing running on a regular schedule. This was possible because we let this other fella, the first pilot we had, go. He was undependable, and besides, he didn’t know enough about flying. But we really got a wonderful replacement who had spent four years flying navy blimps out of Lakehurst, New Jersey. He was a young married fella who’d been considering the mission field. In fact, he’d applied for South America or Africa or someplace. But, with his wife’s help, we finally convinced him that this was much more strategic, because look at all the kids and young people he could influence for missions with this job.

Just so I won’t forget this part of the blimp’s ministry, let me tell you that this new fella wasn’t with us very long before he convinced the board that we should have a missionary emphasis on the blimp. So we decided that every Saturday afternoon would be Missionary Blimp Afternoon. Saturday was a natural choice because we knew Christian kids don’t go to the movies then, like so many other kids. We used missionary signs on the blimp and released junior missionary bombs.

I was interested to see how my own kids would be affected by this new missionary emphasis, especially because they’d sort of come to resent the time their mother and I were spending on blimp work. Maybe “resent” is too strong a word. It was more a matter of their saying, “Aw, another night out working on the blimp? You haven’t been home since a week ago Saturday.” They also were rather bitter about what happened at the football game.

Anyway, I was really happy when this one Sunday on the way home from church my boy brought up the subject. He said he’d been thinking about the blimp, and the missionary sign the blimp had pulled the afternoon before (it was, I believe, the “ONE BILLION UNREACHED” one).

As a result of all this thinking, he said, “I’ve decided to learn to pilot a blimp when I grow up. I’m going to enlist in the navy.”

“It’s not fair,” says his little sister. “It’s really not fair at all. Boys get to do everything. I could never be a missionary. Girls don’t get to learn to fly blimps. All they get to do is play with dolls and wash the bathroom floor and…” She stopped for breath.

“Huh,” says our oldest girl, the one who’s in high school. “Who’d want to have anything to do with a blimp anyway? Only a creep. A real square creep. Brother, I mean, that Gospel Blimp is—”

“Judy, be careful of your mouth,” her mother warns her. “It can get you in trouble.”

trouble.” “Trouble? What do you call what I and the other Christian kids got in over what happened at the game with Central? I guess the blimp had nothing to do with that. My mouth didn’t get us into that trouble. There we were, ahead at the half, and then that darn blimp has to come along and—”

“Judy, that will be enough. You may set the table when we get home.”

“Besides,” I felt constrained to add in the blimp’s defense, “everyone agrees that it was one of those freak accidents. One chance in a million of its happening. You can’t really blame the blimp.”

I think I told you about the fire bombs we were using. We named them that because they represented revival fire falling on the unsaved.

The IGBI Women’s Auxiliary filled them, like I said, at their weekly meetings. Wasn’t really much to making them—they just took a tract and wrapped it up in different colored cellophane. Each color held a different tract. There were loose ends sticking out, so that when they were dumped overboard from the blimp, they sort of floated to earth.

At first the kids chased them all over—I heard someone spread the rumor that there was bubble gum in them. But after a couple of days no one got particularly excited when they fell.

The Commander (Herm wanted us to call him that now) made quite an affair out of dumping the load, according to the blimp pilot.

“Bombs away!” he’d shout, and then he’d shoot them down, alternating colors.

And always, when he’d have a new tract, he’d try to dump some on George Griscom’s next-door neighbor’s lawn. He wasn’t forgetting, the Commander wasn’t, our covenant with George about his neighbor.

Not that there was any encouragement along that line. Once, I recall, I stopped at the Griscoms’ to return George’s power drill. I’d been getting the PA system ready to install on the blimp. So I asked Ethel about their neighbors.

“Nothing new,” she says. “I mean, nothing to get excited about as far as their salvation is concerned. But she hasn’t been well. I think they took her to the hospital two or three days ago. We can see him eating over there alone at night. And always a bottle of beer. Sometimes two.”

“What hospital’s she in?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I’ll tell George you stopped by with the drill. By the way, how’s the sound system coming?”

“Oh, some bugs yet. But give us a few more nights like tonight and we’ll be ready to roll.”

“Will people really be able to hear it?”

“With a hundred watts’ output? And three cone speakers? Listen, they’ll be able to hear it anywhere—even in a basement. No worry about that.”

“The Women’s Auxiliary is really thrilled about the sound system. You know, we’ve been concerned about blind people, and children who can’t read yet, and people who are near-sighted. And people who can’t get outside to see the blimp, like invalids, and old men and women in convalescent homes, and people in hospitals. It’ll be comforting to know we’re doing something for them.”

“Well, tell George I stopped by. And thanks for the drill.”

Originally published in 1960, this excerpt was adapted from the forthcoming collection of Joe’s stories entitled The Gospel Blimp (and Other Parables) (Fall 2013), edited by Brandon Chasteen.

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