Hey everyone,

I've got to admit we've both been completely losing track of time, dates and the like recently. I've lost count of the times I've stopped, looked quizzically at Neal and asked, "Hey, how long have we been here now? What day is it today? Erm... how much longer before we fly home?" Of course, its not that either of us is feeling bored, impatient to leave or even particularly homesick (although I must admit to a little bit of the latter - especially missing my beautiful new grandson, Ezra!) but simply that one day just blends seamlessly into the next. And now, here I am again, sitting at my laptop to write another blog - and trying desperately to sort the events of the past seven days into some sort of comprehensible order for you!

So - here's my best effort at pulling together a very brief resume of our seventh week here in beautiful Traiskirchen, where we're still feeling hugely privileged to be working alongside the wonderful, dedicated team of believers here at the Oasis Ministry to Refugees. The full-time team here have become like a second family to us, and we'll miss them dreadfully when it's time to say farewell.

It always seems easier to record our 'adventures' in chronological order, so I'll begin with Monday, which last week was the monthly 'clothing donations sorting day.' I wish I'd taken a photo to prove it, but I promise you the pile of donations was just as big this week as it was a month ago when the team from CBC brought a van full of donations from back home in Corsham. In addition to clothing this week, we were given a huge TV complete with stand, several good quality suitcases (ones with wheels which are always in most demand!) and dozens of bedding sets, kitchen items and towels.

The miraculous way in which God always provides just what we need, just when we need it - is always a source of wonderment to me. Our 'stock' of ladies winter clothing was getting rather depleted which was causing some concern as although there've been one or two days lately that have hinted at encroaching Spring, its still pretty cold here, especially in the evenings. Well, Father already knew the need, and on Monday we unpacked, sorted and boxed some beautiful quality warm ladies clothing ready for next week's "Frauen Kleidung Tag."

Practising Deutsch, national flags and woollen webs of prayer!

I'm sure I've mentioned before that the Wednesday afternoon Chai Time Programme is one of my favourite times of the Oasis working week. One of the many reasons is that I get the opportunity to practise my 'Deutsch' with the Austrian volunteers that come so faithfully every week to help us serve the refugee ladies. Most of them speak excellent English, but I really enjoy listening to them chatting away in German and I'm actually quite amazed how much I can understand. Of course joining in the conversation is more challenging for me - I almost always have to use a few English words to make up a full sentence - but they are always so lovingly patient with me and I invariably come away with a few new German words added to my vocabulary!

Last Wednesday afternoon's craft activity was hand painting small canvases using acrylics. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and a while ago someone had the ingenious idea of using empty cardboard egg boxes to mix paints in. It worked really well, and it was quite exciting to see some of the beautiful canvases the ladies painted.

For the past week or two a refugee family from South Sudan have been coming to the Oasis. They are believers, and it was great to welcome mum and her two grown up daughters to the programme this week. They told me how much they are praying for their home country, that God will bless their nation and send revival there. One of the girls used the acrylics to paint her country's flag, and she was happy for me to take a photo of it. 

Several other ladies followed suit and painted their national flags, while the younger children enjoyed using water colours. The ever-popular nail polish trays were also out on the tables and most of the ladies had a new manicure before they left. Below are one or two more photos from the afternoon programme.

On Wednesday evening our new Sudanese friends returned with their Dad and brought a couple of muslim friends with them. We had quite a good crowd for the programme, people from Azerbijan, Ukraine, Syria, Iran, South Sudan and Pakistan sat happily together to listen to Dan bring a message from the Bible.

This week his theme was around prayer, and how prayer is our vital line of communication and connection to God. As he was speaking, Dan illustrated his point by tossing a ball of wool back and forth to Neal who was sitting near the back of the room. As the ball went back and forth it created a 'web' - each 'line' in the web illustrating our prayers going back and forth to God, keeping us in connection with him, and also touching and affecting those around us.

After the talk we served tea, coffee, cakes and biscuits and then arranged the chairs in a large circle for a very lively question and answer session. If those living in the refugee camp didn't have a curfew requiring them to be back no later than 10pm, I'm pretty sure the questions woud have continued well into the night!

Dan preaching as he's 'spinning a prayer web' to illustrate his point - and Ali is translating into Farsi

Yes - that's me holding the other end of Dan's 'prayer web.' Neal's arm was getting pretty tired towards the end of the night!

Neal's Notes

Hallelujah! Spring is in the air which definitely makes my daily prayer walks around the Lager and surrounding areas less arduous. Sunshine, blue skies, a warm breeze and the sight of blossom and fresh green leaves certainly cheers the heart.

As I walk I've been meditating and declaring the words of Jesus in Matthew 9:35-38

"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harrassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'"

I found myself rejoicing in the fact that:

a) The fields are ready for harvest

and

b) Jesus' instruction to us at the shortage of workers is not "Come on guys, you know we don't have enough labourers, you need to work harder; work longer; you mustn't let the harvest spoil..." but rather "Ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers into his harvest field."

We have the awesome privilege of working with him in his field, but not the responsibility of ensuring every sheaf of wheat or every ear of corn is harvested. What a relief! Send labourers, Lord ...... and let me be the first to volunteer!

The fields are ready for harvest ....................................

Thursday Coffee House

As always, the coffee bar and Jesus Film night was very well attended. A crowd of around 20 Farsi speakers went upstairs to the large video room to watch the film and have a period of discussion and questions. Simultaneously a smaller group were watching the movie in another language in the basement video room. 

For those who had already seen the film, or who just wanted to relax and chat with the Oasis staff and volunteers, there were tables set up with board games, jenga and 'connect four.' Many, many times it's over a simple non-pressured game of draughts or dominoes that initial contact is made, trust, friendships and relationships are formed and the love of Jesus is displayed. The 'fruit' of the coffee house night may not appear overnight, but Gospel seeds are sown, watered and prayed over, and many have come to faith as a result.

More updates on our refugee friends.....new and old!

F and M

You may remember us telling you about a young Iranian couple we met last autumn at the Oasis. F and M and their little boy had committed their lives to Christ while living in Iran and when the authorities discovered they were Christians they were forced to flee their family, friends and beloved homeland.

They left behind a very comfortable lifestyle and M particularly found it difficult to adjust to life in the refugee camp. She is an extremely intelligent lady who is a particularly talented artist. She became very depressed, was hospitalized on several occasions and was prescribed lots of strong medication which left her completely numb and unable to focus. F found it difficult to cope with their young son who was exhibiting all the classic signs of trauma.

Neal befriended F, a gifted academic, and we invited him to our apartment many times to read and study scripture together. The photo below is of one occasion when the whole family came for a meal while Joan Cooper from CBC was visiting us.

The amount of time refugees have to remain in the Lager while their paperwork and appeals for asylum are heard can vary tremendously. Sometimes we hear of families being ‘processed’ very quickly but for others it can be a long hard period of uncertainty as they wait for their case to be heard. Such was the case for F and his family. They’d already been in the camp for several months when we met them, and by the time we left Austria in January 2018 they had still heard nothing.

Well, we may have physically left the refugees behind when we returned to the UK, but we carried them with us in our hearts and prayers, and we kept in pretty regular contact with F and M via social media throughout 2018.

During the early part of last year at last we heard that they’d been granted their ‘white cards’ (meaning they were officially recognised as refugees at last) and were transferred out of the camp to refugee housing in the Saltzburg area. This was a great blessing as M's mother has lived in the Salzburg area for many years. Now that M was closer to her mother and at last free from the confines of the refugee camp, her mental health improved dramatically.

Towards autumn last year we had two more pieces of news – firstly that M was pregnant with a baby girl (something they’d been praying for over many years) and secondly that they’d moved again into refugee housing in the Tyrol.

And then last night, some wonderful news arrived! Firstly - they've been given a POSITIVE for asylum at last! This means they are now classed as Austrian citizens, can get Austrian passports, look for work here and most importantly find a home of their own. Praise God for his faithfulness! Secondly – M is scheduled to have her baby this morning! I’ll post photos if and when F sends them to me. Here’s an excerpt from M’s message to me last night…

Hello dear Lesley, I have surgery tomorrow morning, and today, the first day of spring and the beautiful Persian New Year’s Eve we received a great joy from the Merciful Messenger – the answer is YES! ….Your loving kindnesses to us is always in our minds….”

'F' and 'M' and their little boy - a flashback to last year when Joan from CBC was visiting us

Mary, Sheila and Harry

On Friday afternoon, Stephanie and I drove once again to the mountain village where Mary, Sheila and Harry are now living. We’d arranged to meet the two ladies in the local café so we could introduce them and spend some time chatting and praying with them. Our prayer is that they’ll become good friends, encourage and support each other in the faith and also in the many practical and emotional difficulties refugee women in particular face as they seek to integrate into Austrian culture.

We met Mary at her home first. She was in good spirits, and said she was happy to have Sheila join us at the coffee bar. Sheila was already there waiting for us and we had a really good time of sharing together. We encouraged the ladies to talk to each other in Farsi, but as they both speak excellent English we were able to join in some of the conversation too.

Sheila, who has a very outgoing, bubbly personality and is a mature believer, shared some of her testimony with Mary. Although she has a much more reserved disposition and is still struggling with the effects of extreme trauma, Mary responded well and we left the ladies after spending over two hours together, with them promising to meet up during the week (we walked Mary past her house to Sheila and Harry’s place, just to make sure they knew where each other lived).

Please pray both ladies will connect well, and they’ll keep their promise to get the bus to Traiskirchen this Friday to join us for our monthly evening women’s programme. After that, we’ll only have one more Friday available to meet up with them before we return to the UK and Stephanie starts her maternity leave.

And 'just like that' another week has passed

So – that brings us up to the weekend, when the weather was especially kind to us and  after church on Sunday we enjoyed a leisurely stroll to explore some of the ‘back streets’ of Tribuswinkel. After a few minutes of carefree wandering, chatting and praying, we found ourselves walking alongside a river that had recently flooded because of the unusual amount of rainfall here. Lots of spring flowers were poking their way through the drenched soil, and most of the trees were in bud. Such a beautiful time of year!

On our way back to the apartment we passed by ‘ Schloss Tribuswinkel’ which is now divided into exclusive apartments. There are many buildings like this in Austria – the local architecture is very distinctive and attractive. We wondered who this ‘castle’ had originally been built for, but unfortunately our German was way too poor to understand the wall plaque that explained its history!

Schloss Tribuswinkel looking particularly stunning in the Spring sunshine.

A little bit of last minute news ....

It’s our wedding anniversary next week and to celebrate we’ve booked a little two-day trip to Budapest. It’s only a three hour journey from Vienna to the Hungarian capital and our Austrian friends here have been urging us to visit this beautiful city before we return to the UK. The bus fare is ridiculously cheap (less than £30 for both us - round trip!) and we’ve found a little boutique hotel on the Buda side of the river that is very reasonably priced. (Reminder to self – must get some Florints this week)

So, on Thursday 28th and Friday 29th we’ll be taking some much-needed R&R time together. This means next week’s blog will probably be a little late appearing – but on the plus side there should be some nice photos from Budapest!

The early part of next week will be pretty busy though – we have men’s clothing room on Monday, and on Wednesday afternoon I’m ‘in charge’ for Chai Time as Steph and Jeremy are going to be away in Italy. On Wednesday evening Neal will be preaching the Gospel message.

We truly value your prayers for all the work of the ministry here at the Oasis. There is much we cannot write about, but our Father knows all, and He is more than able to meet every need. So, I’ll say ‘bye’ for now, assuring you all as always, of our love and prayers.

May all your days be blessed as you serve him in ‘your part’ of this great harvest field.

Lesley and Neal xx