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.'