Snapshots from our ninth week at the Oasis

Do you remember a few weeks ago in 'Neal's Notes' we told you about a young Nigerian couple who'd arrived at the Oasis door late one Monday afternoon just as the clothing room was closing up for the day? They'd been travelling all day, and had just been refused entry to the refugee camp because their paperwork was incomplete. The young man was very concerned about the welfare of his heavily pregnant wife, and had come to ask directions to a government office where they could complete their documentation and avoid a cold night out on the streets.

Neal recounted the story of how smoothly and efficiently the Oasis team worked together to help them. They'd left all their luggage with us, and while someone went to look up the location of the required office in Vienna, Neal gave them enough money to cover their return train fare and a snack. Map and written directions in hand they'd jumped on the next train to Vienna only to find the office had already closed. They'd returned to the Oasis where they were offered a comfortable bed in our emergency accommodation.

Jeremy, one of the full time Oasis staff stayed with K and E  over the next two nights while they got everything sorted out. He took them to a local Lutheran charity that could help get them into the camp and as they were sitting waiting to talk to someone, they had a conversation about the Lord. In Jeremy's own words:

"K said he couldn't believe that God had let this happen to them. E remained sure that God was in control. I encouraged K that we have a God who loves us and understands suffering, sharing about Jesus showing God's love for us by giving his life on the cross to save us. He said 'Oh, so you are a Christian? That is good.' He had grown up in a Catholic church in Nigeria. The Lord worked it out eventually that they were able to stay in the camp, but they were so thankful for our help to them through the process. They've started to come to our local church and have deeply appreciated the worship time these past few weeks.God blessed them with a healthy baby boy two weeks ago. K was beaming when he came by the Oasis and told us that he believed God has been carrying them through the whole time. He said 'I am thankful for this place, you have shown me God.'"

We've seen K and E several times at the Oasis and at church since. They've called their little boy Godwin. He's beautiful, and on Monday E kindly allowed me to take his photo - see below. On Wednesday K, E and Godwin came to hear Neal preach at the Gospel Outreach Night, and afterwards joined in a lively group discussion where they were keen to learn more of Jesus and His love for them. 

Beautiful baby Godwin patiently waiting with his mum while his daddy chose some clothing during men's clothing room day on Monday.

A couple of funny stories

Two thing have happened this week that have made us laugh out loud!

1. Completely independently Neal and I had both decided we'd like to buy each another a wedding anniversary card (27 years this year - medals deserved!) Neal had secretly asked Carol to write on a bit of paper the German word for 'wedding anniversary' so he wouldn't need to embarrass himself trying to explain what he wanted in German to the shopkeeper. The word Carol wrote for him was "Hochzeitstag."

I'd also decided to purchase a card for Neal, but thought for sure I'd be able to pick out an appropriate one just by looking at the picture on the front and hopefully recognising one or two German words. So on Tuesday afternoon when we both had a couple of hours free time, we went our separate ways, making some feeble excuses for why we needed some 'alone time.'

An hour or so later, while browsing through some cards on a revolving stand in a busy supermarket about two miles away we came literally face to face with each other! Busted!! We laughed, of course, and decided it was pretty pointless spending money on cards neither of us could properly understand. Far better to go treat ourselves to a big celebratory ice-cream from our favourite local ice-cream shop. Mmm .... great idea and definitely money well spent!

2. Last Thursday a couple from Albania and their 15 year old daughter came to the Oasis for the first time. The father, 'D' knew no German at all, and only a few words in English. Mum understood no language other than Albanian, and the daughter could speak just a little English. I sat with them for an hour or so before they left the main room to watch the Jesus Film. In very broken and heavily-accented English the father tried to explain what he did for a living. "I work in hospital. Special hospital. I am specialist doctor" ... followed by a word that sounded very much like 'triage.'

"Ah" I said, knowingly, "You are a triage doctor!" He smiled and nodded in agreement, explaining through his daughter that he was hoping to find work in Austria, hopefully in a rural area where there were many farmers. "Huh?" I thought "that's a little strange ....."

His wife pulled out some photos to show me. It seemed she worked in a pharmacy, there were several photos of her standing behind the pharmacy counter serving customers. "Both in the 'medical profession' then," I thought to myself. "I must tell Christoph!"

I suppose I should have realized my error in understanding when one of the photos very clearly showed 'D' in full hospital scrubs and mask, scalpel in hand, standing over an operating table on which was lying a rather large, anaesthetised German Shepherd dog!

"Yes, I am Tierarzt" he said again. "I want work with farm animals!"

Tierarzt is the German word for Veterinarian! Oh no! I promise you, in his thick Albanian accent it sounded exactly like Triage. I felt so embarrassed, having already excitedly run to find Christoph, one of the Oasis staff who is also a qualified surgeon, to introduce a fellow doctor in the house!

But hey, we all laughed and it felt so good. Thank you Lord for giving us human beings a sense of humour!

Wednesday programmes - and double responsibilities for the Grindrods

On Wednesday, I (Lesley) had been asked to be 'in charge' of the Wednesday afternoon Chai Time programme while Steph was away on a well earned break with Jeremy before their twins arrive. And later the same day it so happened that Neal was responsible for preaching the Gospel message for the Outreach Programme.

Yes, I was a little nervous (would I remember how to fill and operate the big electric coffee urn, for example) but I needn't have worried. Our faithful volunteers turned up as always willing and eager to help. Lisa, a lovely Swiss lady who's married to an Austrian and lives in a neighbouring town came through the door laden with huge bags full of craft projects she'd prepared for the ladies. She'd bought a couple of dozen neutral-coloured cotton shopping bags and a variety of special paints and templates that the ladies could use to decorate and personalise them. 

Upstairs we found some little masks which the Californian ladies had brought with them the previous week for the children to make and decorate. We all had a really fun time together, and the women came up with some very professional looking designs as we sat relaxing and chatting with them. The kiddies had a blast making their 'super-hero' masks too!

Four of our beautiful super-heroes in the masks they made and decorated during Chai Time this week

This little sweetheart was so proud and excited about the mask she'd made - and that she was allowed to keep it to take back to the camp!

Lisa demonstrating how to paint the bags

One of the refugee ladies made this design

Another pretty design

Lydia, a volunteer from Russia making sure the paint is dry before it is ironed

On Wednesday evening we had a good crowd in the Oasis for the Gospel Outreach Programme. We had several Farsi-speakers, a group of Russian speaking people, a lady from Mongolia, the couple from Nigeria with their new baby, an Arabic-speaking group from South-Sudan and Lebanon, and our 'medical' Albanian family came too.

Neal preached from the gospel of Luke - the story of the woman who anointed Jesus' feet with perfume, wet them with her tears and dried them with her hair. Jesus went on to explain that this woman's many sins had been forgiven, that was why she loved him so much. Ashkan translated Neal's words into Farsi, Carol translated into German .... but there was no-one to translate into Albanian.

So instead of sitting near the back so I could take some shots of Neal preaching (sorry Neal!) I sat with my new Albanian friends and by using Google Translate was able to give them the gist of what Neal was saying. 'D' followed the text very carefully in the Albanian New Testament, which we gave him to keep. Earlier in the evening during the worship time, Dan played an Albanian worship song from YouTube. It was so encouraging to see 'D's face light up as he pointed to the words on the screen saying "Ahh, look - Albanish..."

After serving everyone hot drinks and cake we broke into two groups for a question and answer time. Neal led the English speaking group while Ken answered questions from the Farsi speakers. 'D' joined me in Neal's group but it was obviously hard for him to understand much. After answering some questions about whether or not we should forgive people who offend us, our South Sudanese friends asked if we could sing some old Gospel songs together. It was great to watch 'K' and 'E' joining in enthusiastically as we sang "Amazing Grace" and "What a friend we have in Jesus."

 

Neal led the English-speaking question and answer group on Wednesday night. In the white hat is 'E', the mother of baby Godwin. Her husband 'K' is sitting next to her, while 'D' from Albania has his back to the camera.

Ken lead the Farsi-speaking question and answer session with Ashkan ably translating for him.

Two days in Budapest

On Thursday we took the bus from Vienna to Budapest for a little break to celebrate our wedding anniversary and get some much needed 'rest and relaxation.' We had a really enjoyable time. The sun shone, it was warm, our little 3-star hotel was lovely and welcoming and the food was fantastic. If you've never visited Budapest we both highly recommend it. Below are a couple of 'slideshows' from our trip.

 

Anniversary dinner at the hotel

Buda meets Pest across the Danube

The Fisherman's Bastion at Buda Castle

View from Buda Castle across the Danube towards the Pest side of the city

Calvin Square with Calvin's statue and Calvin's Chapel

On the banks of the mighty Danube River, on the Pest side between Elizabeth and Margaret Bridges is a very poignant tribute to the Jews who lost their lives in the city during the Second World War. All these shoes belonged to Jewish men, women and children who were shot into the Danube by the occupying Nazis. Evidently the Hungarians tried to protect their Jewish population during the war. It took a violent Nazi overthrow of the Budapest city government to achieve their ends. They force marched (in winter) over 150,000 of Budapest's Jewish citizens to the only concentration camp in Austria - Mauthausen. Scores died along the way ...

Enjoying some traditional Hungarian Goulash soup in Budapest 'old town.' Delicious!

Neal's Notes .... from Budapest!

Intimidation is a ‘fear-filled’ thing!

Lesley and I were enjoying a 2-day mini-break in Budapest to celebrate our wedding anniversary. The very helpful guy manning the hotel reception desk was keen to show us all the ‘best deals’ to get the most out of our time in the city, eventually narrowing it down to two options – either a ‘hop-on-hop-off’ bus pass or a ‘Buda Card.’

I decided it would be best to buy the Buda Card which gave us unlimited travel on all the city buses and trams and discounts into many of the museums and places of interest. Our Hungarian friend looked at us both thoughtfully….

“You are both from the UK, right?” Right

“The UK is still in the EU, right?” Well, just about

“You’re both ‘of a certain age’ … am I correct?” Correct

He explained that as over-65s we were entitled to free public transport on all buses, trams and underground trains throughout the city. All we had to do was show our passports to the conductor or driver of the vehicle as proof of our ages. Lesley, ever the canny shopper, was delighted. We bought the ‘hop-on and off’ bus pass instead (well worth it by the way) and set off for the day’s sightseeing.

I, however, was beginning to feel sceptical and a little uneasy. After all, Austria is also part of the EU, but in Austria a ‘senior card’ has to be purchased before any senior rates become applicable. “Just show your passport to the driver” were his instructions, so we decided to do just that when taking the underground train back to the bus station the next day.

Well, we spend a full day walking, sightseeing, happily hopping on and off the bus in glorious sunshine, Lesley, still without a care in the world. However, my imagination was replaying what had happened on our arrival in Budapest and our first use of said underground train. An official stationed by the ticket machine had guided us through purchasing our tickets... he hadn’t referred to our ages? Why not? And then, as we’d exited the station the three rather intimidating young guards asking to see our tickets… they hadn’t mentioned free travel for senior citizens either! As the time for us to make our journey out of the city got closer, an inner scenario had developed in my imagination.

We get on the underground without purchasing a ticket. We’re stopped at our destination by the same three guards, demanding to know why we’d travelled without tickets. Showing our passports doesn’t illicit the response we’d been told of. We don’t speak Hungarian. They don’t speak English. They delay us for further questioning. We miss our bus back to Vienna…

My beloved’s suggestion that this apprehension was simply a fear attack didn’t help at all. So I persuaded her that it would be safer to simply follow the ticket purchasing system we’d been shown on our arrival – after all, we were only talking of a few hundred forints – just three or four euros. Let’s just forget about the ‘free transport’ idea!

So that’s what we did. Newly purchased tickets in hand we headed towards the platform only to be confronted by two guards. “Stop!” the first one commanded. “Documents! Documents!” We showed him our tickets … and our passports! He spent some time carefully examining our passports, and then explained via his colleague who spoke very little English, that we didn’t need the tickets. We were entitled to travel free of charge – and “No, no refund is possible!”

As we rode the Metro to the bus station I continued to feel angry with myself for my ‘fearful’ response to such a simple challenge, and was still berating myself as I approached the refreshment counter to order coffees while we waited for our bus back to Vienna. While the young assistant prepared our order, her male colleague struck up a conversation with me, telling me he was ‘an idiot.’ When I asked him why he thought that about himself he explained (partly by mime) that he’d lifted weights wrongly, injured his back, and was now afraid that the damage was permanent.

As he continued to describe the pain, its location and a pinched nerve, I realised he could have been describing the damage I’d done to my own back some years ago, and how Jesus had healed me. I don’t know how much he understood of my explanation of Father’s love for him, but my offer to pray for him was readily accepted.

As I walked away from the counter, coffees in hand, I watched him demonstrating to his colleague how he was now free from pain and able to bend and twist!

Hallelujah - intimidation broken!

So that's it for another week!

We're now just into our last week here at the Oasis and already the packing, sorting, 'temporary goodbyes' are taking place. I'm not sure whether we'll have time to write another blog before we leave on 8thApril, but I'll try...

Thank you as always to everyone who takes the time to read our ramblings and to pray for us. We couldn't do any of this without you.

So until next time (whether via blog or face-to-face) our love and blessings to all

Neal and Lesley

(Below are a few more night-time photos from beautiful Budapest)