Just because you can't see it ... doesn't mean it's not there!

Hey there dear family and friends!

So at last we have said goodbye to February, and March has arrived bringing with it some much needed sunshine and warmth to our little corner of Austria. Already the vines are starting to bud, the days are getting longer, and all around us the farmers and vineyard owners are busy ploughing up their soil, digging in fertilizer and carefully tending their vines. Signs of encroaching spring really gladden the heart, don’t they?

As we’ve walked back and forth to the Oasis these past weeks we’ve often stopped to enjoy the view of the mountains overlooking Tribuswinkle. It’s one of our favourite views, but it’s not often that the whole of Schneeberg is visible in the distance. It’s usually covered with clouds or a hazy blue mist. But a couple of days ago, after a small storm subsided, the snow-covered peaks were wonderfully crisp and clear.

It got me thinking! The mountain hadn’t moved on the days we couldn’t see it – it was always there, just as our wonderful Heavenly Father is always there, watching lovingly over us even during seasons when we can’t see Him or feel His presence.

Looking towards the little village of Tribuswinkle where we're living while here in Austria. This photo was taken last Monday morning as we were walking our usual 25 minute route through the vineyards along Mitterweg towards Traiskirchen. Directly behind us is the Lager, with the Oasis just a few hundred yards further along the main road into Traskirchen. The stunning snow-covered mountain in the distance (which isn't visible very often) is called Schneeberg, a favourite local beauty spot.

Your Kingdom Come .....

Every Tuesday morning at the Oasis, full time staff and short-termers such us ourselves gather together to have a time of fellowship, worship and prayer together. The theme at the moment is based on The Lord’s Prayer. Each week a different person is assigned a small section from the prayer to study during the week, and share their thoughts with the group. This week it was Neal’s and my turn to lead the devotions, centred around the wonderful phrase “Your Kingdom Come.”

So on Sunday afternoon, after spending an hour or so enjoying lunch & fellowship with some of the Farsi-speaking believers at our local Baptist Church, we sat together at our dining table to pray and prepare. Oh my – only three little words, but what a wealth of meaning they contain. We had a great time discussing the various aspects of His Kingdom: it’s three-fold aspect of having 'already come’ (at the birth of Jesus), being 'in the process of coming’ (as the Kingdom grows and multiplies in the earth through the preaching of the Good News of salvation) and being 'yet to come’ when Jesus returns and ushers in His Kingdom in all its fullness. So ….. what are we actually praying for when we say “Your Kingdom Come?” Interesting, huh?

Sitting at our little dining table to study the Lord’s Prayer on Sunday, with a big pot of tea and a few biscuits to keep us going …… can’t think of a better way to spend a cold and cloudy afternoon, can you?

A visit from an 'old friend.'

This week we finally had the opportunity to say hello to ‘an old friend’ that we’d never actually met in person! Tom Richards (pictured below with Leila) was a team leader at the Oasis for many years in the past, and is known and respected by several of our CBC family who’ve visited the ministry here in Austria over the years.

Tom is now living back in the USA where he’s still working amongst re-settled refugees in his home city. We’ve been friends with Tom on Facebook for some time, but it was great to meet him ‘in the flesh’ and listen to him recount a few of his many stories from past years at the Oasis. Tom had been invited to speak at a conference in Vienna – an 'all expenses paid' invitation that came ‘out of the blue’ and at a time when he was feeling particularly homesick for Austria.

What a great example of how good the Lord is to those who have served him so faithfully! Its been a real joy to see the faces of refugees who remember him light up as they've rushed to embrace a man who's made such a lasting impact on their lives. 

Tom with Leila, a beloved former refugee from Armenia who has know him since she first came to the Oasis many years ago.

Clouds, rainbows and friendship bracelets!

I have to say my personal favourite programme here at the Oasis is the Wednesday afternoon Chai Time. It’s a wonderful opportunity to spend some personal time with ladies (and their little ones) who've travelled to Austria from many different countries, cultures and social backgrounds. Every week is different, we're never sure who or how many will turn up, how long they'll stay or what their particular reasons for visiting us are.

For many it’s simply an opportunity to get a little break away from their menfolk to 'let their hair down' and relax together with other women, doing ‘womanly things.’ This could be as simple as painting each other's nails, making jewellery, water-colour painting or just chatting and making new friends over a cup of coffee, a piece of fruit and a biscuit or cake.

This week was no exception. We had ladies from Syria, Iran, Sudan, Mongolia, Armenia and the Czech Republic (and probably more than that - I can never remember them all!) There was a lovely calm atmosphere this week, the children played quietly with toys that they actually shared without fighting (miracle right there!) while other kiddies sat with Carol and learned how to make clouds and rainbows out of cotton wool, glue and strips of crepe paper. Some of the ladies gravitated to the ever-popular manicure table, while others tried their hand at weaving bracelets with parachute cord.

And among it all, there were many quiet but meaningful conversations going on about how God is a God of love, who demonstrated that love by sending Jesus to take upon Himself the punishment for our sins, so that we could have a relationship with Him for all eternity. Before they left, several of the ladies said they’d come back that night with their husbands to hear more about Isa (Jesus) and what He did for them.

Carol, looking super proud of the fluffy cloud and rainbow creation she made with the little ones on Wednesday afternoon. Below are two more photos from this week’s Chai Time programme in a ‘mini slide show.’

Anja taught the ladies how to make friendship bracelets from parachute cord

While at another table some young women from Syria enjoyed giving each other a manicure

Can you guess the language?

Ken brought his artist’s easel and paints to help him share the message on Wednesday evening. The refugees always enjoy the way Ken shares stories from the gospels using art. Even if there is no translator for their language available, it’s usually possible for them to ‘get the gist’ of what’s being taught. Ken gave us his text before the meeting started so we were able to prepare Bibles in as many languages as possible, placing a marker in the page where the text was found.

God really blessed us this week, as we had capable translators for every nation represented. We had a large group of Arabic speakers turn up, and an American-Egyptian brother who’s married to an Austrian lady and living in Vienna ably translated into Arabic for them. Ali, as always, did an amazing job translating (and expanding) the word for the large group of Farsi speakers on the other side of the room. At the back of the room, Carol translated from English into German so that Leila (who doesn’t speak English) could translate from the German for the group of Russian speakers.

It sounds chaotic doesn’t it? But it honestly wasn’t – everyone listened intently and as they left after many conversations over tea and cakes, there wasn’t a person present that could truthfully say they hadn’t heard the glorious news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Bible open to the text for this Wednesday night's Gospel talk. We put place markers in Bibles of many languages before the meeting begins, so they're ready to be handed out before the talk starts. Can you guess what language this is? Below is a little slide show of four other photos taken on Wednesday night.

Another tearful farewell, and it doesn't get any easier!

A week or two ago we told you about ‘S’ and ‘M’, a young Christian couple from Iran who were facing a ‘negative’ result from their second appeal for asylum. They were also grieving over recent threats that the body of their little baby boy who’d been buried in a Muslim cemetery in Iran, was going to be disinterred and cruelly ‘disposed of’ as it was making the cemetery ‘unclean.’

‘S’ and ‘M’ and their remaining two children have been in Austria for well over 3 years (the youngest was actually born here) but owing to irregularities in their paperwork they’d lost their little apartment and been taken back to the Lager. Because they hadn’t been fingerprinted in another EU country prior to arrival here, the Austrian authorities were planning to deport them straight back to Iran where they would face certain persecution as they were well known to be Christians before they left.

Neal and I have spent quite a bit of time with this dear brother and sister, and we’ve been praying fervently with them that the Austrian judge would show leniency in their case. On Wednesday they came to the evening programme at the Oasis. After the programme finished they told us they were going to be transferred early the next morning to a town in the very South of Austria, around three hours’ drive from Traiskirchen.

We were surprised and overjoyed to see them walk through the door again for Thursday evening coffee bar. Their transfer had been delayed for one more day! We were especially glad as this gave us an opportunity to give them a small financial gift out of the CBC 'Compassion Fund' we'd brought with us for occasions like this. They were so grateful, as are we, to our home church for making it possible for us to bless our dear brother and sister in a time of such need.

Although we were very sad to see them go, we’re also praising God that they've had at least a ‘temporary stay of execution’ and will not be sent back to Iran immediately as they’d feared. ‘S’ believes the fact that their older son (he’s around six years old) has settled so well into school here and is fluent in German, has been an important factor in the decision to allow them to stay in Austria a little while longer.

Please pray for this dear brother and sister in Christ, that they will keep their eyes on Jesus despite the storms going on around them. That they will find a good church and community of Christian friends in their new town, and that they will be allowed to remain in this country that has become their home. Pray that the children will settle quickly into a new school and make friends there, and that this horrible threat from their home city in Iran will come to nothing.

Tears and smiles as we said 'goodbye' to S and M and their little ones on Thursday night. We are keeping in touch via WhatsApp, and have already heard that they've arrived safely in their 'new' town.

A little letter from home

This afternoon as I sat at my laptop to finish writing this week’s blog, a lady from the church office knocked at our apartment door to hand-deliver a small envelope. It contained a beautiful card from one of the young mums at our home church (you know who you are – thank you so very, very much!)

The card was full of encouragement and blessed me so much. One of the things she mentioned was that she'd been praying a lot about our emotional health and well-being. This was especially interesting as Neal had literally just handed me his hand-written ‘Neal’s Notes’ to type up. I'm sure you’ll see the Holy Spirit’s hand in this important topic as you read on …….

Neal's Notes

Each day I find my admiration, respect and love for my beloved wife growing, and recently I've found that I need to add another emotion to this list … jealousy! Yes, I am jealous of my wife and her gift of empathy. We listen together to the latest refugee’s story and almost immediately she is hugging this total stranger, tears streaming down her face as she offers up her heartfelt, almost anguished prayers - the period of intercession usually closing with a whispered question “Has my mascara run?” (I find ‘panda eyes’ most endearing - well, on women anyway)

This empathy seems to be so cathartic, almost as if her tears bring a release, a cleansing to the defiling situation we’ve just heard about. Yes, we both hear exactly the same story. Lesley responds with deep tears and intercessional groans. My response is one of …. honestly …anger! I find it abhorrent that human beings can behave so unkindly, cruelly, wickedly towards others.

Of course, I’m able to give this anger a virtuous title, calling it ‘righteous indignation,’ a burning against injustice and the like. Yet I continue to find myself defiled by the anger, not released as Lesley appears to be by her gift of empathetic identification. Hence my jealousy!

Over the past few weeks, story after story has simply increased the burden within me, with no release until at last I could no longer carry it.

“Lord, my heart is so heavy, so troubled. Will you not help me?”

His reply came as clear as a bell, from the opening verses of John 14.

“Let not your heart be troubled.”

“But Lord, how can I not have a troubled heart? Have you not also heard the cries of these broken hearts and seen these tortured, shattered lives?”

(Remember dear ones, that on this blog we only share with you the ‘sanitized’ cleaned-up accounts of the horrors experienced by many of our refugee friends)

“How can I not have a troubled heart?”

His answer came again, still through John 14

“Trust in God, trust also in me.”

Oh, I’d still like to have Lesley’s gift of empathy. I continue to have a ‘holy jealousy’ of it, but now I realise that I don’t need it. That it is possible for me to have a ‘large’ heart, a ‘caring’ heart, without it being also a burdened and troubled heart.