"Spring is sprung, the grass is riz...." Trees laden with blossom seem to have appeared overnight here in Traiskirchen. This photo was taken a day or two ago on our morning walk to the Oasis. You can just see the refugee camp in the misty distance....

A brief glimpse back over our sixth week at the Oasis Refugee Ministry

Hey everyone!

First and foremost, I want to apologise that this week’s blog is quite short and doesn’t contain as many photos as usual. It’s not because we haven’t been busy here, in fact quite the opposite! Since we last wrote to you, many things have happened, but the majority of stories are of a sensitive nature and not suitable for sharing openly on this forum. However, as you read on I trust you'll get a little insight into how our sixth week has unfolded. I've also included a couple of updates on how some of our earlier refugee contacts are getting on..... 

Neal enjoying a 'pretend tea party' on clothing room day

Monday morning ..... a team working in complete harmony

The Oasis working week always kicks off at 10:30 sharp on Monday mornings with the clothing room programme. This week it was children's clothing room day. Neal and I often comment how amazed we are that such a tiny, crowded room can be transformed so quickly from apparent chaos into a nicely presented little 'kiddies clothing store' as the small group of dedicated staff and volunteers work together in perfect unity!

Rails and racks of men's clothing that had been left in the room from the previous week are hurriedly whisked away into temporary storage in one of the video rooms, while boxes upon boxes of children's clothing are brought up from the basement, unpacked and sorted into their different genres and sizes.

Baby clothes are carefully hung on the tiniest of hangers in one corner of the room while in another, a gazillion of pairs of socks are checked for signs of wear (in which case they are discarded), paired up and placed in the appropriate 'sock box.' Items of underwear, hats, gloves and scarves, warm sweaters, shirts, jeans and coats are all carefully checked (do the zips work? are the pockets empty?) and hung on rails or displayed in plastic boxes according to size.

As all this is happening, another volunteer is on his knees unloading boxes of children's shoes and winter boots, once again checking for wear and tear, giving them a bit of spit and polish if needed, before placing them in size order on shoes racks at both ends of the room.

In the hallway, another volunteer is happily laying out a myriad useful non-clothing items that have been donated. Things like towels, bedding, curtains, kitchenware are always popular with the mums. And there's always a good selection of quality toys, fluffy animals and kiddies books that families can take with them as they leave.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen someone else is busily brewing the now-famous Oasis speciality spiced chai tea and filter coffee in big stainless steel urns. Another volunteer is heaping tablespoons of sugar into dozens of mugs ready to serve to the particularly sweet-toothed refugees - always very welcome especially on the cold winter afternoons we've been experiencing recently.

Other workers are in the main meeting room which is quickly being set up as an orderly waiting room. Depending on numbers attending (as many as 80-90 refugees arrive looking for clothing here on a Monday) it can be a very long wait! Rows of chairs are set out, a carpeted play area for the smaller kiddies is organised, and a couple of 'colouring-in' tables are set with freshly sharpened colouring pencils and paper, ready for anyone who wants to pass an hour or too drawing or doodling while they wait.

By midday everything is generally ship-shape and we head upstairs to the staff kitchen area to grab a bite to eat. Then it's back downstairs to pray together before opening the main doors at 1:30pm.

This Monday we served around 35 families - most of these with multiple children! The clothing room itself is only big enough to take 4-5 people at a time, so while some of us helped mums to chose clothing for their little ones, the remaining volunteers mingled with the waiting crowd, chatting, serving tea and snacks, playing with the kiddies and just loving on people. We had quite a large group from Russian-speaking countries this week, and a similar-sized group of Arabic speakers. Neal is always a favourite with the children and this week he kept them happily occupied by playing endless ' tea party' games with them. 

Mondays are always a great opportunity to start building relationships with newly-arrived refugees, making them feel welcome and relaxed. Sometimes God opens doors in our conversations to share a little about why we do what we do, about Jesus and His love for them. We always give every family a programme printed in their mother tongue, and invite them to visit us again for the free German language classes and our evangelistic programmes on Wednesdays and Thursdays - and praise God many of them do! 

 

One of our beautiful new refugee babies enjoying her bottle while mum waits in turn for her clothing room number to be called.

Neal's Notes

Needs drive us to our knees!

I don't know how true this is for you, but this week has seen me spending much of my time in intercesion for the people we are serving. Their needs are so great and our resources so limited.

Of course, no organisation such as the Oasis can ever have too many donated items - from pots to pampers, clothing and household items and the like. But we frequently discover that the perceived needs of those coming to us for help are beyond our capacity to provide. And so, though most are grateful for what we are able to help them with, others are disappointed. Oasis is not able to pay for transport costs or challenge a court order to re-unite a divided family. We have no influence over immigration officials for example.

I think that the most hurtful words I've heard from someone whose need we were unable to meet (what they perceived as their urgent need) was: "What good are you, then?"

It doesn't take long here on one of the front lines of suffering and need, to discover that you are no good at all. Not that I subscribe to the maxim 'there is nothing left to do but pray,' it just seems that this week I appear to have been merely handing out sticking plasters to major trauma victims. No good at all, but it drives me to my knees. Perhaps I am some good after all - here, in prayer, I can co-work together with Him!

I can't reunite separated families or make legal representation for those denied refugee status. I have no contact with the authorities in charge of housing. I cannot provide a work permit, meet social or medical needs or even help them to get to the UK.

But I can do what we at Oasis do - give what we have, and then get down on our knees!

"You shall have a fishy on a little dishy....!"

Our Wednesday afternoon women's programme this week was an absolute hoot! I have nothing but admiration for the volunteers who think up and prepare the various craft activities. We generally provide two activities -  one for the ladies (which usually involves something to do with beauty or artistry) and the other something a little simpler and more 'fun' for the children.

So - when the volunteers gathered together to set everything up this week, I looked at the box of white paper plates and brightly coloured cup-cake baking cases in surprise. Were we going to let the ladies try their hand at baking today? Wow ... that's a yummy idea, I thought. Wrong!! These plain and simple little items were to form the basis of today's craft for the little ones. The children were going to make and decorate ........fish!

So with a few pairs of child-friendly scissors, some 'googley eyes' and a couple of sticks of paper glue, the children spent the next two hours completely lost in deep concentration as their beautiful creations came to life.

Here's a couple of photos of 'fish making' in progress ....

This precious little boy from Syria was SO proud of his beautiful fish! I'm sure you'll agree he's done an excellent job.

A quick update on previous refugee contacts - M & S; Mary, and Sheila & Harry

Some weeks ago we told you about S and M and their two children. They were the couple that had sadly lost a baby boy while living in Iran, and they'd had to bury his little body in a Muslim cemetery as there are no Christian burial sites in Iran today.

Sadly, S and M had to leave the camp just a couple of weeks after we'd made contact with them. They were transferred to other refugee housing in an Austrian town over three hours drive away from us.

The good news is that S and M are doing well. They haven't found an Evangelical church to attend yet, but they are reading their Farsi Bibles every day and praying together. S and I are keeping in touch via WhatsApp. Here's a little snippet from one of her messages this week:

"God's glory on my Lord's Name. I thank you and Neel for thinking of us. His promises are right and His words are alive and true. Only He is our salvation and comfort. God declare that we are your children ....and we want your will whatever it is, and we will always carry our cross....we will not worry our tribulations and fears. You are ours, our only support in the difficulty of our lives. May God give us strength as much as possible to have a happy endurance....."

Please continue to pray for this dear Christian couple who've already suffered so much because they've stood by their confession of Jesus Christ. Pray that their appeal against deportation is heard by a Godly and compassionate judge and that they will be granted full asylum here in Austria soon. Also please pray that their little six-year-old son will settle into school well, and make new friends.

Another contact we made several weeks ago was 'Mary', a young Iranian lady who Ali and Marzia had brought to our apartment late one night for prayer. Mary had many health and emotional issues brought about by the severe trauma she'd endured as a small girl and as a young adult. Mary was also transferred very suddenly from the refugee camp here in Traiskirchen and placed in temporary refugee accommodation in a little mountain village about 40 minutes' drive away.

Since she left, Stephanie (an Oasis team leader) and I have been driving over to visit Mary every Friday afternoon. We've been gently encouraging her to process some of the trauma using art - amazing techniques Steph learned on a trauma and PTSD counselling course. We've also been reading the words of Jesus together, answering her questions about the Christian faith, and praying with her during each visit. It's been truly wonderful to watch her slowly opening up and responding so positively.

Worryingly, we hadn't been able to contact her at all this past week (we later discovered her phone had broken) but we drove over anyway - and it was both heartwarming and humbling to see her pretty face light up with a beaming smile when she answered the door to our knock! Stephanie had taken her a new mug (the one she'd been using was full of chips and cracks) and I'd baked her some little iced lemon cupcakes - she was thrilled! Such simple, insignificant things, but they're all ways of sharing the love of Jesus with those who need him so much.

Do you recall reading about 'Sheila' and her husband 'Harry' a few weeks ago? They're the Iranian couple who'd travelled in pitch darkness under a tarpaulin in the back of a truck for 12 days when they had to flee Iran after the authorities discovered Sheila had become a Christian. Sheila gave her life to Jesus around three years ago while living in Dubai. She's a strong believer, but her husband, although curious and reading the Bible (the 'Injul') has not yet made a decision to follow Christ.

Well, two weeks ago we heard that Sheila and Harry were also being transferred ... and guess where? Yes - the same village where Mary is living! This coming Friday Steph and I have arranged to meet Mary and Sheila in the little village coffee bar so we can introduce them to one another. We also plan to introduce them to Miriam, a missionary from Switzerland who's been connected to the Oasis for many years. Miriam visits the village twice weekly to run a free German language course for the refugees and also to distribute free fresh bread, fruit and vegetables.

We're just thrilled with the way God has brought everything together so beautifully. Especially because in less than a month Neal and I will be coming home, and Stephanie (who's expecting twins in June -July) will be taking a period of maternity leave. Please pray that Mary and Sheila will become good friends and that Sheila will be able to encourage Mary in the Lord. Also pray that Harry will soon surrender his life to Jesus, and that God will bless Miriam in her weekly outreach work in their village.

Gospel Outreach and Coffee House Night

As always, the Oasis opened up for the weekly gospel outreach on Wednesday evening, and on Thursday there was a good attendance for the coffee bar, games and Jesus Film night. A group of around 15 Farsi speaking refugees went upstairs to watch the film and ask questions about the faith. As always, Ali was there to not only interpret but to very ably help pastor and teach these new believers. There's a little slide show of photos below .....

An interesting new book - written from a refugee's persective

Before we sign off for this week .....

Here's a brand new book shortly to be published (obtainable on Amazon from 21st March) One of our colleagues at Oasis was able to get hold of a pre-publication copy which he's just lent to Neal. Its neither a difficult or long read, but its very informative regarding some of the problems refugees face when trying to 'settle' in Europe. It's quite an inspirational book and we highly recommend it to you. The paperback version costs £8.99 or it can be downloaded on Kindle for a mere £5.99.

'No Longer Strangers?' by Javed Masih

Well, that's it for now, folks!

I hope you've enjoyed reading of this week's encounters and adventures. No doubt there will be more to come next week, but for now we both want to send you our love and remind you just once more to keep us, the team and all our beloved refugees - not only here in Austrian but all over he world - in your daily prayers.

"....for tremendous power is released through the passionate, heartfelt prayer of a Godly believer!" James 5:16 (TPT)

Until next time.....

Lesley & Neal

xx