Painting, plastering, plumbing and praying

Wow, what a crazy, busy and exciting week its been! Those who read last week's blog know we've just embarked on a huge re-modeling project here at the Oasis Refugee Centre. Work started last week on installing a new disabled-access bathroom for the main meeting room area on the ground floor. After ripping out the worn out, ancient fittings, knocking down a couple of walls and preparing the floor ready for new slate tiles to be laid, we were all looking forward to the arrival on Sunday of a team of four very capable guys from our home church in Corsham who'd offered to drive all the way over to Austria to help complete the work.

Martin, Paul, Chris and Andy arrived safely with their van loaded to the max with all manner of tools and dozens of bags of clothing donated by our Corsham Baptists family, at around 5.30pm on Sunday evening - after driving for almost 24 hours across Europe! Michi, one of the Austrian members of the Oasis team had prepared them a traditional Austrian meal of Turkey Schnitzel and potato salad, followed by freshly home-made marbled Bundt cake (delicious!) 

After quickly unpacking the van the desperately tired travellers were able to take advantage of the wonderful new shower they'd installed in the refugee emergency accomodation here last year, before heading to bed for a much needed night's sleep!

Carol cutting Michi's home-baked Austrian Bundt Cake for the CBC building team on Sunday night.

Monday .......

So, first thing on Monday morning, as the building team set to work in the bathroom, Neal and I spent some time unpacking a few of the many bags of brand new socks, underwear and winter clothing donated by our dear friends back home. The basement at the Oasis is piled high with 'banana boxes' full of clothing, each carefully labelled ready to be carried upstairs into the clothing room for distribution on the appropriate day (men's women's or children's) 

Just a small selection of the many boxes of donated underwear & socks we unpacked on Monday morning!

The rest of Monday was a bit of a blur as we all mucked in to help. The Oasis team is rather depleted this week as over half of them are in Bosnia, attending a refugee ministry conference in Sarajevo, although the spaces everyone's working in here are pretty tight, so it would've been difficult for a 'full-strength' team to fit in! Neal and I spent a few hours clearing out the rubble from the Bible storage room ready to re-paint the walls and old cast-iron shelving units, and when we got back to our apartment Iater I made a big pan of lentil stew and some sultana scones for the guys' lunch on Tuesday. All in all, its been a long but happy and productive day. 

The framework for the new ceiling, and the 'housing' for the new toilet have been fitted today. And on the right of the photo you can just see the newly boarded up former doorway into the Bible storage room.

Tuesday ......

Tuesday morning came far too quickly, and we all rolled up our sleeves again for another 'busy day at the office.' Neal and I made a start on painting the walls and ceiling of the Bible room while Martin and his wonderful crew started fitting the new bathroom ceiling. Huge progress being made today - and then, just after lunch our dear friend Ali burst through the door with: "Neal and Lesley, can you put down your painting for a couple of hours? I need you to come with me right now ...."

Ali drove us to a small kiddies playground in the vineyards where Marzia and little Emmanual were sitting around a picnic bench with a young couple and two small children. Here is their story.

 

M and his wife S travelled the long refugee highway from Iran to Austria three and a half years ago. They'd become Christians in Iran seven years ago, and were secretly attending an underground church when the authorities discovered they were Christians and they had to leave the country, fearing for their lives. While in Iran they had lost a baby son in tragic circumstances, and because there are no 'official' Christian cemeteries in Iran, they had no option than to bury him in a Muslim graveyard. When they fled Iran, both sides of their family disowned them, and they've recently been told that the body of their little boy makes the Muslim cemetery unclean. They've been threatened that unless they return to the Islamic faith, his body will be dug up and 'disposed of.'

If this wasn't enough heartbreak for them, last week their second appeal for asylum in Austria was denied and they've been told they must be deported back to Iran (they were not fingerprinted in any EU country on their way here) After having found and furnished a little apartment, joined a local church community, got their oldest little boy settled in a local school and begun to make a new life here, they've had their apartment confiscated, lost all their sparce belongings and are now back in the Lager waiting for the police at any time to come and put them on a flight back to Iran.

How do you minister the love, hope and joy of the Gospel to someone in a situation as desperate as this? Thank God for the precious Holy Spirit who fills our hearts with compassion and gives us the words to speak into their broken lives. Please keep this dear family in your prayers, that God will make a way where there seems to be no way.

 

And so after a long and tearful 'farewell' and a promise to meet up to pray with them again as soon as we can, Ali dropped them off at the gates of the Lager and we returned to the Oasis to pick up our paintbrushes. What a day its been.

Oh - a footnote: The building team decided to keep the lentil stew for their evening meal, and ate the sultana scones as an accompaniment!! Seriously guys - that's not cool. (but apparently they enjoyed it that way!)

Wednesday .... and we're at the half-way point

Everyone worked their socks off on Wednesday .... very possibly spurred on by the very kind invitation from Ali and Marzia to visit their home tonight for a traditional Iranian meal and a time of fellowship together!

As Neal and I finished painting the Bible room, the building team were making superb progress in the bathroom. Everything was still completely covered in a thick layer of dust and the whole place really looked like a rather nasty explosion had taken place, but through it all there was a wonderful sense of camaraderie and fun. Praise and worship music from UCB Radio blasted out over the sound of power tools and there was lots and lots of laughter. By 'knocking off' time, the plasterboarding was almost completed and the team had finished laying the floor tiles. Most of the wall tiles had been measured and cut to size too. Its all starting to look really, REALLY good!

So after a quick shower and change of clothes Ali picked us all up and drove us to his home in Baden where Marzia and Emmanuel greeted us at the door with huge smiles of welcome. Within a few moments Carol and Stephanie arrived and the eleven us were soon sitting around the table being treated to the most delicious fresh salad, Iranian mint yoghurt, mountains of beautiful jewelled saffron rice and the famous Ghormeh Sabzi (slow cooked beef cooked with Iranian spices and lemons) Seriously, British food is SO bland in comparison!

Enjoying a fresh salad followed by the traditional Iranian "Ghormeh Sabzi" made for us by Ali's beautiful wife Marzia on Wednesday evening.

After we'd eaten until we were almost 'bursting' we sat around and sang some Farsi worship songs together, and Ali and Marzia shared a little of their testimony with us. I won't recount it here as we're still trusting God that before too long they will be able to come to the UK and share the wonderful story of how they came to faith in Christ with you in person. It really was a very lovely, memorable night.

Emmanuel truly is the most gorgeous, engaging little boy, and he soon had all the guys eating out of his hand!

Thursday and Friday .....

For me (Lesley) Thursday was a day best forgotten!  A sore throat which I'd tried to ignore for the past few days developed overnight into a full-blown chest infection (all the dust in the atmosphere didn't help) and as I coughed, sneezed and wheezed through the wee small hours, I was starting to feel quite sorry for myself. After praying for me, Neal got me some medicine from the local pharmacy and I spent the rest of the day tucked up in bed. Fortunately there wasn't much we unskilled labourers could do at the Oasis today, and it was good for both of us to rest and have a proper day off!

 

By Friday morning I was feeling much better and got busy catching up with some 'housework' as we weren't needed at the Oasis until after lunch. Mid-morning, Ali phoned to ask if Neal had time to go out and pray together for an hour or two....

Neal's Notes .....prostrate in the vineyards

This morning Ali invited me to join him in walking and praying. We spoke of the Kingdom as we climbed the hill, walking between fruitless, dormant, seemingly dead vines until we reached the top of the ridge.

Here, spread before us was a vast panorama. Looking out across the valley with the Lager in the foreground, we could see for miles over the surrounding villages - the day being very clear.

Our prayers for Austria became more desperate! For the lost, for believers imprisoned by religious philosophy. So, falling to our knees our prayers became more impassioned and we cried out for His great mercy, to the amazement of a few local dog-walkers.

Although the sense of Father's presence could have tempted us to stay here much longer, we descended the hill to return to the duties of the day feeling the warmth of the sun on our backs and Christ in our hearts.

 

When we arrived at the Oasis on Friday afternoon the transformation was startling! The building team had almost completed the tiling, fitted the new toilet and wash handbasin, fitted a new sliding door and a brand new door and doorframe for the Bible room. Wow!

Neal and I helped Dan, Carol and Stephanie to carry boxes of Bibles back where they belonged, Marzia worked hard using the industrial vac to clear some of the floor debris, while Ali (and Emmanuel) put a fresh new coat of white paint in the hallway! What awesome teamwork!

"Train up a child in the way he should go...."

And then .... a sad farewell

And 'just like that' the working week was over and it was time for the building team to pack up their tools and head off for another long journey through Austria, Germany, France, across the channel to Dover and back home. On Friday evening, Carol and Stephanie took them out for a meal at a local Heuriger (you'll have to ask them to explain exactly what that is!) and early on Saturday morning we all met together to wave them off.

What superheroes they've been! The Oasis staff (and the refugees for sure) are so, so grateful for all your hard work.

We spent the rest of Saturday morning and early afternoon clearing the main meeting room ready for clothing sorting day on Monday.  There's still a little bit to do - some grouting, plastering and painting but the vast majority has been completed - beautifully!

I've uploaded a couple more photos in a little slide show below

So - until this time next week, we'll say bye-bye, may God bless you all, and please keep us in your prayers.

All our love as ever

Neal and Lesley