Hello again dear ones,

 

Well, here we are already part way into our fifth week at the Oasis Refugee Centre, and I'm sitting at my desk on a very cold and blustery Tuesday afternoon playing 'catch up' as Neal and I attempt to recall some of the highlights from week 4 to share with you. 

It's still very much winter here in Austria, and we have to admit to the odd stab of jealousy as we've seen many of your Facebook posts and photos of the beautiful, unseasonably warm and sunny weather you've been experiencing back home. However, the BBC weather app tells me it'll be our turn by Thursday this week when we can expect temperatures of around 18C ..... oh yes please, bring it on!!

Once again I think this blog is going to take the form of a mini diary, and we'll begin with Neal's recollection of something that happened during last Monday's clothing room day.

Team work - everyone playing their part to get the job done!

Neal's Notes

Impressed by the Formula One tyre-change guys? I was similarly awed by an unplanned 'pit stop' here at the Oasis this week. I'd spotted an unfamiliar face in the large crowd of ladies and children who'd congregated in the main meeting room for the ladies clothing distribution day. Well, a tall young black guy would certainly stand out in such surroundings!

I approached him, introduced myself and informed the young guy of the nature of the day's programme. He explained that he'd actually called in, along with his heavily pregnant wife, to ask if we could direct him to an address that was written on a piece of paper. Recognising the address as that of a local charity organisation, I asked why he was going there and if we at the Oasis could be of any help.

The explanation was that he and his wife who were from Nigeria, had applied for refugee status in an Austrian city some distance away, only to be told that they must report to the refugee camp here in Traiskirchen where they would be registered and given temporary accommodation.

After travelling for some hours they'd arrived as instructed to present themselves at the Lager's registration desk, only to be told they needed a letter from the organisation whose address he was now looking for, before they would be permitted to enter the camp. As it was now quite late in the afternoon the very distinct prospect of having to spend a cold and uncomfortable night on the street lay before them.

It was at this point that 'team Oasis' sprung into action.....

I shared my new friend's dilemma with team member 1 who immediately went off to find a local map to locate the required office. At that moment team member 2, overhearing the conversation, informed us that this office didn't open on Mondays. Team member 1, still clutching his now reundant map, headed back upstairs to the Oasis office to find the address of the nearest branch that opened on a Monday afternoon. It was in Vienna and there was now only an hour or so left for them to make the train and underground journey before the office closed for the day. Team member 3 quickly grabbed the couple's considerable luggage, offering to keep it safe until they could return to collect it, while team member 4 directed them to the nearby train station, pushing a twenty euro note into the man's hand to help cover the cost of the journey. Team member 5 was able to assure the weary couple that should they miss the deadline, a comfortable overnight bed and simple meal would be made available to them here at the Oasis.

UPDATE: The teamwork and good intentions turned out to be partly unsuccessful - the office in Vienna had closed early that day, in fact the place was already shut before they'd left Traiskirchen. However, they returned later that evening and enjoyed a hot shower and a restful night's sleep at the Oasis, another team member staying the night also to ensure they were OK. After breakfast the next day, they were able to obtain the necessary paperwork and were soon registered at the Lager. Later in the week they returned to express their gratitude and ask if they could come along to church with us next Sunday. Of course we said 'yes.' Please keep this young couple in your prayers.

Refugee Restroom Reno update .....

Tuesday mornings at the Oasis are generally set aside for team devotions - a necessary and vital team-building time of worship, prayer and fellowship, followed by 'brunch' (prepared by a different person each week - Lesley's turn next!) and then the weekly Oasis business meeting.

On Tuesday afternoons some of the many jobs that need to be done around the building are tackled by those who are able to stay on for an hour or two. Last Tuesday, while Neal and I cleaned and tidied the overnight accommodation shower room, Christoph continued adding some of the finishing touches to our new disabled restroom. We've now installed a big new mirror and a very posh 'dropdown' baby changing unit. We're still waiting for the new handrails for the toilet and wash handbasin to arrive though. Evidently they're still half way across the ocean - literally heading our way on a very slow boat from china!

Further progress has been made on the restroom remodel this week

Wednesday - still the busiest day of the week.

On Wednesday afternoon we had around 28-30 ladies and several of their little ones visit us for the regular Chai Time programme. Its hard to keep track of numbers as they keep bobbing in and out to chat to husbands and friends outside. As always we made a point of greeting everyone personally, welcoming them with a smile, a handshake or a hug, offering refreshments and getting them involved in various craft activities. The children always gravitate towards the large rug piled up with toys in the corner of the room. It's generally a noisy, rather chaotic but very happy and relaxing afternoon and this week was no exception.

Lately, we've welcomed rather a lot of brand new mums with their gorgeous new babies, and quite a few heavily pregnant ladies too. As always, the Oasis offers new mums a beautifully presented and filled 'new baby bag' and for those who need extra baby clothing there's always a healthy supply of good quality used items they can choose from in the clothing room.

Wednesday afternoons are also a good opportunity to hand out invitations for the evening programmes. Several of the women said they'd return later that night and/or on Thursday evening with their husbands. This Friday was the monthly women's special programme, and many ladies promised to come to that too.

Dan and Marie's daughter Anja, holding one of the many babies that visited us with their mums on Wednesday afternoon.

A few of the 'Wednesday night' ladies wanted to have their photo taken with Stephanie, Carol, Leila and I (their faces obscured for safety and security reasons)

Sheila's story

Last Sunday at the local Baptist church we were introduced to a young Christian lady from Iran who I'll call Sheila (not her real name). Sheila speaks excellent English, and I've been longing to spend some time with her to hear the story of how she became a Christian, and how she came to be here in Austria in the refugee camp. On Thursday evening at our coffee bar and games night, I finally got the opportunity to chat with her.

Sheila and her husband (not a believer - yet!) met and got married while living and working in Dubai. They both had good jobs and a very comfortable lifestyle. Sheila's brother was also living in Dubai and she spent lots of time with her sister-in-law, a Phillipino lady. Her sister-in-law was a believer, and after watching the way she lived and seeing the impact of Jesus on her life, Sheila decided she wanted to become a believer too. Although her husband (I'll call him Harry) belonged to a minority muslim sect, he didn't object to his wife attending the evangelical church in Dubai, and for two years she went every week and grew strong in the faith.

On her return to Iran last year however, things changed dramatically. Sheila started going to a very well-attended underground church and just before Christmas one of the members suggested they should have a big party to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Unfortunately, they weren't aware that this person was a member of the security police and the party suggestion was a trap. Lots of photographs and video footage were taken during the celebrations, and Sheila's face was clearly visible.

Praise God, Sheila's brother discovered the betrayal and warned her to leave their city and go into hiding in Tehran straight away. Although he wasn't a Christian and hadn't been at the party, her husband Harry was arrested, beaten and detained for two weeks as they constantly interrogated him about Sheila's whereabouts. He couldn't tell them anything. He didn't know where his wife was, as Sheila had been advised not to tell him.

He was eventually released but told not to leave town as the police might want to interrogate him further. However, Sheila's brother helped Harry escape that same night to join his wife in Tehran. After a couple of weeks in hiding they found some smugglers who were willing to get them out of the country. They paid the men 7,000 euros each before being loaded into the back of a truck with four other people. After a seemingly endless journey in total darkness, Sheila and Harry were pulled off the truck and left at the side of the road as the truck disappeared into the distance. When they enquired as to where they were and what the date was, they discovered they were near the airport in Vienna, and they'd been in that truck, in complete darkness with only water to drink and dry bread to eat, for a total of twelve days and nights!

They found their way to a police station, told their story to the officer in charge and asked if they could claim asylum as refugees. At first they weren't believed, but eventually, after running several checks to see if they'd been fingerprinted in any country on their way to Austria, the truth of their story was accepted and they were sent to register at the refugee camp here in Traiskirchen. They've now been in Austria a little over two weeks.

There is more to their story ..... to be continued next week! In the meantime please pray for Sheila, that she will find comfort and friendship among Christian brothers and sisters here in Austria, and for Harry to know the peace that can only come from acknowledging Jesus as his Saviour and Lord.

 

It's a rather blurred photo, but we couldn't let this week go by without mentioning that both Carol and Jeremy were celebrating their birthdays this week. Christoph had baked them a beautiful carrot cake complete with frosting (ably supervised by his lovely wife Michi) and we sang 'Happy Birthday' to them both before the Coffee Bar programme on Thursday night.

A little update on our new sister 'Mary'

Last week we told you about Mary, a young woman from Iran who was brought to our apartment for prayer by Ali and Marzia. Mary prayed to receive Jesus as her Saviour, and she also accepted an offer from Stephanie, a full-time worker at the Oasis, to take her through a series of art-therapy sessions designed to help victims process experiences of intense trauma.

Mary has been transferred from the Lager, and is now living in very squalid conditions in a little town about 35-40 minutes drive away. On Friday Stephanie and I drove out of our local valley through beautiful mountain scenery to meet up with her. We had only been given very vague address information, and it would have been well nigh impossible to find her had we not met a couple of women chatting in a car park, who pointed us in the direction of 'some refugee houses.'

After knocking on a few doors, enquiring about 'a new, tall, young Iranian lady' we eventually found her. We spent a few minutes in her tiny room with her, then took her out for coffee in the local cafe. As we sat around the little cafe table, Stephanie gently took her through the first few stages of the art therapy course, and she responded very positively.

When we told her we had to leave to get back to Oasis in time for the Friday evening women's programme, she said she'd like to come back with us. So the three of us piled back into the car and drove back to Traiskirchen, grabbing a quick kebab (thank God for the local kebab shop) before joining the rest of the volunteers to set up for 'ladies night.'

Stephanie standing outside one of the refugee houses where Mary now lives

Friday Night is Ladies' Night .........

We had a good group of refugee women turn up for our monthly Friday Night Ladies programme. Its amazing how every time the Lord provides interpreters for each language group. On one table this week was a group of Farsi speaking ladies, and a lovely young woman had travelled all the way from Vienna to translate for them. A group of Russian speaking women from Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan gathered around another table where Raffi, a local Austrian lady who speaks fluent Russian was interpreting for them. The third table was occupied by refugee ladies who could speak German, so Carol was happy to translate for them!

I'd been asked to 'do the music' for the evening. We sang three songs, all of them with actions that the ladies could join in with. I had the best fun teaching them "Our God is a great big God" .... I was playing keyboards, or I would have tried to video them all enthusiastically acting out "He's higher than a skyscraper and He's deeper than a submarine!" We finished with the chorus "Oh, how He loves you and me," and then Marie gave a simple Bible teaching on The Good Samaritan. Later, we made and decorated little boxes out of felt, which the ladies could take home with them. The evening ended with some energetic Armenian folk dancing led by dear Leila.

By the time we'd finished clearing up and said our last goodbyes, it was past 10:30pm and Stephanie and I still had to drive Mary back home. It was heading towards midnight before I joined Neal back in our apartment for a quick de-brief and time of prayer together.

It had been a very full but greatly profitable day!

One of our colourful 'craft and fellowship' tables at Ladies Night on Friday

And so we come to the end of another eventful week here at the Oasis. As always Neal and I want to thank you all for your prayers, encouragement, texts, emails and cards. They really do mean the world to us.

We have many more stories to tell - but they will wait for next week.

We love and miss you all, but we know we're where God wants us to be right now, and that makes being away from home so much easier.

Until the next time ...

May you all experience the love and joy of knowing Jesus, and the peace of God which passes all understanding!

Neal and Lesley ❤

 

A quick reminder: you can access all our weekly blogs from the same link.. Just click on the drop-down menu and chose the week you want to read about - see picture below 🙂