Snippets from a crazy, colourful and chaotic clothing room day

Ladies' Clothing Room day is generally the busiest, noisiest, most chaotic day of the month here at the Oasis, and last week was no exception. Our little group of faithful volunteers turned up mid-morning (as they always do) to prepare the room, carefully unpacking and hanging pretty much every item of women's clothing that was stored in the basement.

A crowd of around 30-40 women had already gathered and were waiting impatiently outside the door as this same small group of volunteers prayed together before opening the doors at 1:30pm.

It always happens this way, despite the fact that we don't operate on a 'first come, first served' basis. Clothing room numbers are handed out randomly once the women are all inside and seated, meaning late-comers have as much chance of getting in first as those who've stood outside for ages. It's done this way to dissuade large crowds of waiting refugees from blocking the pavement outside the building. Its been explained very clearly many, many times, but all explanations continue to fall on deaf ears!

Well, by 2:00pm around 75 numbers had been handed out and the 'big room' was packed full with women and a large number of children - in fact we all commented that there were more children here on Monday than there were the previous week at children's clothing day!

It was past 5:30pm before the last group were escorted into the little room. As always, we were all amazed and so grateful to God that even these last few women were able to find what they came for - a miracle considering the shortage of women's items in the building right now.

The clothing racks, shoe rails and bins of bedding, towels and household items were almost empty as we waved a tired but cheery goodbye and pressed invitations to the monthly Women's Friday Night programme into the hands of our last customers for the day. Supplies here really are akin to the manna in the wilderness - sufficient for the day, not too much, not too little, but always just enough!

Some of our clothing room volunteers praying together before opening up for the refugee ladies on Monday afternoon.

The first group of ladies to arrive find seats and are given cups of chai or coffee.... we were able to supply clothing and household items to more than 70 ladies this week

OK, we're ready for numbers 61 through 65 ..... almost there! I took this quick photo at around 5:00pm and we still have 10 more ladies to go!

Wednesday night highlights... in the words of one of the Oasis staff

Ken is one of the staff members here at Oasis. He's the leader of the Wednesday night Gospel outreach programme, and this week he wrote a review of the evening for the Oasis website. I thought I'd transcribe it for you here .....

"How will they (seven languages in one room) hear?

Last night our Wednesday evening programme started off slowly with just one Farsi speaker and four Macedonians, who understood Albanian. Even so, despite the small numbers, translation was already complicated. One of the Macedonian guys knew German well and said he would translate into Albanian for his wife and the other married couple. (Turned out he only 'sometimes' translated, but at least the other guy knew German AND they asked if they could take the Albanian New Testaments with them as they left!)

Then, one more Farsi speaker arrived - we are so thankful to have a Farsi translator. In the following ten minutes or so, other refugees slowly arrived ... one woman from South Sudan came in, she understands some English. Then a Bengali guy from Bangladesh walked in, with a friend from Pakistan. Thankfully they both knew English quite well. After that, a old friend of ours from Mongolia came in too! 

As I was already in the middle of the introductory words at that point, we had to try to sort out language needs by literally 'thinking on our feet!' Thankfully we had a few moments to figure it out during the worship songs. With the help of YouTube we were able to find a worship song for almost each language present.

So Matthew, the preacher for the night taught the Word in English, which the South Sudanese woman and the Pakistani and Bengali guys understood. I (Ken) translated from the front into German for those who knew German - our faithful Armenian volunteer, our Mongolian friend and the two Macedonian men. Our Farsi translator fulfilled her role well for the two Farsi speakers, translating from English into Farsi.

So despite this most unusual mix of many different languages, it basically worked out! Matthew gave a clear message from the teachings of Jesus, explaining the judgement of God, but also His grace that is open for all. (Matthew 11:20-30) We also had some good discussions afterwards. There was a small Farsi group discussion; Matthew got to answer some questions from the Pakistani guy; Jeremy and Neal connected well with the Bengali guy, and I got to explain more to one Macedonian man. Meanwhile Carol spent some time with her friend from Mongolia, and the lady from South Sudan had some conversation with Stephanie and then enjoyed music in her own dialect from South Sudan that is on YouTube! She was so happy. She and a few others couldn't help but dance to the beat for a while!

It was such a unique evening, we were left somewhat speechless by the end. Pray for the seeds of the Gospel that were planted. May the Lord water them and inspire the people to read His Word and seek the Truth."

Neal's Notes

We had fewer volunteers than usual for the Coffee House night on Thursday. In addition to this, 'Nowruz' had just begun and there was hardly a soul out and about on the darkened streets around the Oasis building.

For those of you who don't know, 'Nowruz' (which literally means 'new day') is the name given to the annual 13-day celebration of the Persian New Year. It is celebrated around 21st March every year, and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern hemisphere. It is a time of great celebration for families and friends, much feasting, dancing and the giving and receiving of gifts.

The Oasis Coffee House always opens its doors to 'whosoever will' at 7:00pm, but the evening isn't as 'time sensitive' as the Wednesday Night Gospel outreach programme, and our visitors tend to drift in (and out) throughout the evening. All this to say that I was quite prepared to abandon our usual 6:30-7:00pm trawl of the streets outside the Lager to hand out invitations - at least for tonight! But watching Jeremy pulling on his coat, followed by: "You coming, Neal?" made me realize that this well-established 30-year-old routine was not about to change - Nowruz or not!

Stepping out of the door, programmes in various languages at the ready, we were just in time to see a Lokalbahn tram stopping at the platform across the road, and one of our Farsi translators stepping down. So now we were three! We made our way down Otto Gloekel Strasse towards the main entrance of the refugee camp, encountering several groups of various nationalities all intent on spending their evening at the only event in town - the Oasis Coffee Bar!

And then out of the shadows of the camp entrance a lone young man emerged. He approached us, asking for a cigarette. None of us smoked and so we couldn't help him with that, but instead tried to encourage him to join us back at the Oasis for coffee and a cake. Unfortunately none of us spoke a language this young man recognised, so any attempt at communication beyond a simple mime was futile.

Our friend broke off from 'speaking' to us to ask another group of passers-by for a cigarette. A long conversation ensued between the four of them. Although none of them spoke English, German or Farsi, we recognised the word 'Oasis' in the conversation. Via gestures they let us know that the young man needed our help and we should take him back with us.

Back at the Oasis, it was soon understood that our new young friend 'D' was from a Russian-speaking country. Fortunately we had a Russian translator with us for the evening, and with her help, 'D' was able to share a little of his story.

He and his wife had been told to register at the camp by the Austrian authorities. Unfortunately as they began the registration process at the reception area, his paperwork was deemed 'incomplete.' His wife was allowed into the camp and provided with a room, leaving him standing alone on the street with the instruction to come back the following day with additional documents from a particular agency. Of course by this time all government offices were closed and he was now facing the miserable prospect of a long cold night on the streets.

The Oasis has emergency overnight accommodation set aside for exactly this kind of situation, which sadly happens very frequently. Jeremy kindly offered to spend the night at the Oasis with 'D' ensuring he had something to eat, a hot shower, and a comfortable night's sleep before leaving to track down the required paperwork and hopefully re-join his wife in the camp the next morning.

So praise God, our forray into the highways and byways of Traiskirchen on a cold night during the Nowruz celebrations turned out to be more than worthwhile ..... for the sake of the 'one.'

Thursday night ..... another truly mutli-national evening!

Neal and Jeremy's new Russian friend, 'D' was just one of many nations represented at the Coffee House on Thursday. Even among the staff and volunteers we had people from America, the UK, Austria, Afghanistan and Armenia. 

We welcomed back a new family from Albania, a group of Arabic speakers from South Sudan and Lebanon, a lady from Mongolia and several from Azerbijan, Ukraine and, of course from Russia. There were quite a few Farsi speakers from Iran and Afghanistan also.

As our visitors made themselves comfortable at tables and began to play various board games, each volunteer chose a table to sit with them, at first to welcome them, chat and play games, but also to invite them to watch the Jesus Film in their own language. This week all four of our video rooms were in use!

The family from Albania - a husband, wife and their 15-year-old daughter were happy to sit and watch the film together out in the courtyard room. The daughter speaks very good English, and as they left, she told me they'd never heard the story of Jesus, his death and resurrection before. Please keep this family who have only just arrived at the camp, in your prayers. That they will continue to come to the Oasis, and that their hearts wil be softened as they hear more of the good news of the Gospel.

For many years, an elderly Austrian gentleman has been coming regularly to the Coffee Bar Night. He's in his late eighties and although he lives alone some distance away, he is still driving despite his advanced years. We, and many others have tried unsuccessfully over the years to share the Gospel with 'H.' He has been very resistant, always changing the subject - usually to his passion, which is classical music!

This week Neal and Ken sat chatting with him for a wee while before asking yet again if he'd like to watch the Jesus film. What a surprise when he said 'Yes, I would!' Ken sat with him as they watched the 2-hour long movie together in Deutsch. 'H' watched intently the whole way through. By the time he emerged from the video room everyone else had already gone home and we were mopping the floors. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will water the seeds that have been sown, that the light of the Gospel will break through years of resistance and reach this dear elderly man's heart.

Upstairs, our Russian speaking visitors settled down to watch the Jesus Film in their language, but most of the Farsi speakers who came on Thursday had seen the Jesus Film and were already believers. So instead of the movie, they met together in the back video room to watch a dramatised version of a 'dream testimony' from YouTube. There are many testimonies like this available on the internet - amazing stories of conversions from Islam and other religions to Christianity, which have taken place through supernatural dreams and visions.

Below is a photo I took of the chalkboard showing where each film was being shown and in what language! It was a truly excellent night......

Friday Night Women's Programme

One of our regular volunteers had friends from California staying with her this week, and they had offered to provide the music and the craft activity for our monthly women's evening programme. Extra special effort was made to lay the tables nicely with a variety of snacks and nibbles. There's a photo below of the room laid out before the ladies arrived.

Prabably because of Nowruz there were not as many ladies as we usually get, but it was still a very blessed time. The music and singing was lovely, and the women really enjoyed making beaded bracelets and necklaces.

Stephanie brought the Word from the story of Solomon and the two ladies who came to him for his wise judgement over who was the real mother of a baby. You can read the full story in 1 Kings 3:16-28. It's a difficult story involving tragic loss and grief, something most of the refugee women have experienced in one way or another. Stephanie pointed the women to the different reactions these mothers had in dealing with their grief and loss. One chose to try to rectify the situation in her own way, by using crafty deception and lies. The other mother chose to respect the King's widsom and displayed her love for her child by being willing to give him up rather than see him killed.

You could have heard a pin drop as Stephanie shared the love of God in Jesus through this story, and we were blessed to have skilled translators present for each language represented. After the message we spent 5-10 minutes having a question and answer time at each table before handing out the craft materials.

Sadly Mary and Sheila didn't show up on Friday. Stephanie and I will try to visit them in their homes at least once more before we return to the UK.

Laying the tables ready for the Friday Night Women's Programme.

Jennifer from California at the piano. She and Stephanie sang some beautiful duets about God's love for us.

A Sunday afternoon visit to Vienna

We've been here in Traiskirchen now for eight weeks and at last this weekend we managed to squeeze in a quick visit into one of my favourite cities in the world ... beautiful Vienna. The sun was shining and it was lovely and warm. We enjoyed relaxing in one of the city parks, listening to a very talented harpist as she played for the crowds picnicking on the grass.

Before we left to ride the Lokalbahn back to Tribuswinkel we took a quick peek inside 'Peterskirche' (St Peter's Roman Catholic Church) in the city centre. The exterior of the building is impressive but quite plain and modest in design. But oh my .... the inside was quite a revelation! I've added a few photos in the slideshow below to give you an idea of how elaborately it's decorated. Wow!!

And so another wonderful week here at the Oasis has drawn to a close. Eight weeks have come and gone in a flash, and I know from experience our remaining time here will be over even more quickly.

Next week we'll be celebrating our wedding aniversary with a two-day visit to Budapest. We're so grateful for the opportunity to take a little time away to rest and re-charge our batteries. Its so imporant to us to finish our assignment here well.

Thanks to everyone who's been in touch with us this week whether by email, text or letter. Every contact is appreciated and valued. Please keep us in your prayers .... oh, and one more thing .....

F and M's new baby daughter arrived safe and well last week. I promised you a photo - and here it is! Isn't she beautiful?

Baby Ariana - a precious gift from God to F and M, our refugee friends from Iran