Rabbit trails

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Seminary assignment leads to puppet ministry

by Malinda Just

As a seminary student in 1978, Steve Treague was required to develop a 15-minute child evangelism presentation that had “kid appeal.” Using illusion tricks, Treague dazzled his professor, who in turn encouraged Treague to continue developing his presentation.

The seed was planted, and in 1981, Treague and his wife, Faith, founded Reaching the Children Ministries (RTC) based in Sioux Falls, S.D. The purpose of RTC “is to reach children for Jesus, and to have him known to others,” according to the organization’s Website, www.riddles.org.

From its inception, RTC Inc. has used puppets, radio and television to entertain and teach children of all ages. Originally the Treagues put together a 30-minute show and were hired on several occasions. The gigs quickly grew to include full summers of vacation Bible school and camp opportunities, running from 1981 to 2007. The couple also provides children’s ministries for Sioux Falls congregations, including two Mennonite Brethren churches (see “Puppet partners”).

Radio and TV

In 1990 RTC produced Precious In His Sight, a television show that ran until 1994 that featured Burnnie the Bunnie and Riddles the Clown, a mime. For the next three years, Burnnie the Bunnie was the star of a radio program that aired in South America and South Dakota.

“The radio program couldn’t feature our original Riddles the Clown character since Riddles was a mime clown,” Steve Treague says.

As their most popular puppet at the time, Burnnie became the feature character of the radio series.

“Even though Burnnie was created previous to the radio program, his personality and idiosyncrasies grew with each episode,” Treague says.

As Burnnie’s popularity grew, people encouraged Treague to convert the radio program into a television show.

Technology opens new doors

“During the run of the radio program, listeners would comment on how perfectly this program could be transformed into a television series,” Treague says. “Television production was very expensive in the ‘90s. However, in 2007 the development of video technology made it possible to consider turning the old radio show into what is now known as, Burnnie: Tails From The Light Side.”

RTC made a fundraising request of $50,000 to individuals and faith-based businesses for the purpose of developing a television show. Through the prayerful search, Treague says, one individual offered to fund the entire purchase of cameras, lighting, sound and props required to begin production.

“After this initial investment,” Treague says, “the entire program now operates on a budget of several hundred dollars per episode, resulting from many individuals donating their time and talents.”

As the show’s writer, producer, director, composer, editor and the voice of Burnnie the Bunnie, Treague says each month ends “with an empty financial bucket.”

“Faith does a few substitute teaching positions each week to help us meet personal expenses,” he says. “But production could certainly improve with continued financial support, so we depend of God’s provisions to keep us moving forward.

“We continue to pray for God to alert those he has specifically designated to be a part of this television outreach,” Treague says. “We also pray that those whose hearts are touched to reach the children will indeed become prayer warriors and financial supporters of this important program.”

Catching the vision

One group of people who have caught Treague’s vision for ministry are people at Christ Community Church, the Mennonite Brethren church plant at which the Treagues serve as children’s church directors. People from the congregation have become involved in RTC in a variety of ways. Both Anderson and his wife, Donna, have had feature roles in recent programs. Others from CCC have assisted with registration and release forms for the live audiences and several CCC members are on the RTC board of directors.

Treague says the intention of the Burnnie show is to reach children from age five to fifth grade with an “entertaining, yet faith-based program projecting one important Biblical concept per episode.

“Many children do not enter a church building, but their television is on and watched many hours each day,” Treague says. “Our intent is to bring God’s Word to the children in their own living rooms with a program designed to appeal to both genders while crossing intergenerational boundaries.”

In other words, Treague says, boys and girls of all ages enjoy Burnnie.

“Burnnie’s Dennis the Menace personality along with the many interesting set locations and the amazing illusions from the TREGGLLUSIONS Shop and Live Show make this program unique and fun for everyone,” Treague says.

The show currently airs in Sioux Falls as well as additional cities in South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska.

Thousands of children are currently able to view Burnnie each week, and the viewing audience is expected to increase with volunteer distributors around the United States contacting local cable access stations. RTC plans to provide the DVD series free of charge to any broadcasting station interested in airing the show. For those unable to view the show on TV, a free, full episode is available to watch at www.riddles.org.

“Television is an incredibly far-reaching opportunity of outreach,” Treague says. “It has been a great blessing to see God’s hand intervene in a variety of ways to bring this children’s faith-based television series from possibility to production.”

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