Hello Austria! Brrrrr ..... the wintry sun glistening on the Danube as we flew into Vienna airport on Sunday afternoon.

We've arrived!

Yay! We're delighted to be back in Austria for our third short-term missions assignment here at the Oasis Refugee Ministry in Traiskirchen. What a blessing and privilege it is to be here once again, and we're so grateful to our church family at Corsham Baptists for making it possible. It genuinely feels like our 'home away from home.'

Our flight last Sunday was on time and thankfully turbulence-free despite a 'high winds' weather warning at Bristol airport just before take-off! We had clear skies for much of the flight and as you can see from this photo, the usually green and fertile vineyards of this beautiful wine-growing region below us were covered with ice and patches of snow.

Although the temperature here at the time of writing is several degrees below that in the UK, I'm happy to say we're very snug and warm in our cosy little apartment here at the Evangelikale Gemeinde Baden. We've been truly blessed by the leadership of this local Baptist Church who've generously rented their missionary apartment to us again, at a ludicrously low rent for the next 10 weeks.

First thing Monday morning...... and a fresh layer of soft white snow had arrived overnight! This was the view from our bedroom window at 7:30am

Monday ...... Children's Clothing Room Day

Those who've followed our previous trips to the Oasis will know that every Monday the building is open all afternoon for refugees to come and choose clothing, footwear and a multitude of other much needed personal and household items for themselves and their families. The basement is stocked with a huge variety of good quality clothing and sundry equipment, much of which is new, but the majority donated by local people and from churches all over the world. The team always meets around 10:30am to stock the little clothing room with men's, women's or children & baby's clothing and shoes ready for opening at 1:30pm.

So straight after breakfast Neal and I donned our winter coats, hats and snowboots (SO glad we brought them with us!) and set off on the first of many half-hour walks to come, through the vineyards from Tribuswinkle to Traiskirchen. As we walked and prayed together we passed by the Lager, the huge impressive former military barracks, now the largest refugee camp in Austria. This is where the majority of disenfranchised men, women and children who've travelled the refugee highway into western Europe are housed while they wait for their asylum applications to be heard in the Austrian courts.

The government refugee camp in Traiskirchen, know locally as the Lager. The Oasis is literally just around the corner from the camp.

This Monday it was children's clothing day. We welcomed around thirty mums (and a couple of dads) with their little ones, all eager to find warm coats, sweaters, coats & scarves, gloves and footwear suitable for the sub-zero temperatures here right now. This was a smaller crowd than usual - probably due to the bitterly cold weather, and they all gratefully cupped their hands around the mugs of coffee, hot chocolate or chai we offered them as they arrived. Whilst small groups of mums and kiddies took it in turn to browse through the clothing, Neal and I sat with those waiting in the main meeting room.

Engaging in conversation with refugees can be quite challenging at times. This is partly due to the language barriers, but also because many of them have been horribly insulted and abused (verbally and otherwise) while making the long and often dangerous journey from their country of origin into Europe and eventually to Austria. Gaining eye contact and establishing a sense of mutual acceptance and respect can take a lot of time and patient, gentle persistence, but it is oh, so worthwhile!

Neal's Notes

The meeting room was full of ladies chatting and children playing. I was feeling a little superfluous to requirements (just how many cups of tea and drinking chocolate can a fella hand out?) so when a young single guy edged through the door I 'homed in' on him like an exocet missile!

Although 'D' spoke very little English I soon discovered he was not there for clothing but wanted to meet up with Ali, our Farsi interpreter, whom he'd spoken with a few days previously. With Ali translating, 'D' told us something of his story.

Havng come to faith back in Iran, he'd had to flee for his life soon afterwards and was now unsure of his salvation. He had done so many 'bad things'... could it be true that Jesus would truly forgive him? Ali and I encouraged him with testimonies and experiences of Christ in our own lives, and then we spotted 'D's need. He had indeed asked Jesus into his life, but had never repented of his sin.

Ali led him in a prayer of repentance, and afterwards asked him to read aloud in his own language from Isaiah 53. Tears streamed down his face as he read to us these glorious words of scripture. We watched his countenance lift as truth broke upon his wounded heart! Before he left we gave him a Bible in Farsi to take back to the camp with him.

Please pray for 'D' that he will allow us further opportunity to strengthen his faith through fellowship and teaching of the Word.

Neal and Ali praying with 'D' from Iran

And then the demolition work began .......

As we waved goodbye to our last clothing room customer, preparation work for the installation of brand new toilet and wash room facilities for the main meeting room got underway. Unless you've actually visited the Oasis, it's difficult to imagine just what a huge task this is. The building was formerly an old supermarket. Behind the main meeting room at the front of the building is the kitchen and a 'rabbit warren' of smaller rooms, including the main toilet and washroom, a small book room packed from floor to ceiling with Bibles in many different languages, and a children's play area and video room - all with inter-connecting doors!

The toilet needed to be updated to allow wheelchair access, so a plan was drawn up recently to totally re-model the whole area. This involves installing a brand new toilet and wash handbasin; widening the doorway and installing a sliding door to enable wheelchair access, knocking down a dividing wall & laying new floors; blocking off the connecting door into the Bible room and cutting through the thick concrete walls to install a new entrance from the video room. Sounds complicated?  You bet it is .....

How grateful we are that a team of four guys from Corsham Baptist Church are driving out to Austria this weekend to spend a week completing the work, and as their schedule is tight, and the amount of work enormous, the team here have done as much as possible to 'prepare the ground' for them.

First job - empty the Bible room! Within an hour all the boxes and their precious contents were piled up in the meeting room - see photo below. I hope this give you an idea just how many nationalities visit the Oasis. The vision here has always been that any refugee coming through the doors has the opportunity to leave with a Bible in their own language, given with love and free of charge.

So for the rest of this week and next the Oasis is closed (something that happens very, very rarely) and we've joined the team every day to smash down walls, knock out doorframes, chip ancient tiles off floors and walls, fill in lots of holes (and make many new ones), and transport countless wheelbarrow-loads of rubble to the local tip. 

Thankfully, miraculously, we appear to be on target to have everything ready for Martin and his building team when they arrive on Sunday!

To end this week's blog I've put together a couple of short slideshows of photos taken amongst the rubble this week. Hope it helps you 'get the picture' and encourages you to pray for us, the Oasis staff, and especially for the CBC building team as they make their long, long journey through some pretty treacherous weather conditions, from Corsham to southern Austria this weekend. Please pray also for the refugees here who will surely miss the warmth, friendship and loving welcome the Oasis always provides for them.

So until next week its goodbye from a pair of rather weary amateur 'property developers.' Thank God 'normal ministry' will be resuming before too long!

We love and miss you all lots

Lesley and Neal

Just before the 'dirty work' started

The wash handbasin is the first to go

Next the old toilet door and doorframe come out

Out comes the toilet and more rubble from the wall

Almost there .....