A 'normal week' at the Oasis? There's no such thing!
Greetings to you all from beautiful Traiskirchen!
I'd intended to use today's blog to give you an idea of what happens during a 'normal' week at the Oasis. However, our first week was barely a few hours old when we realized there's just no such thing as a 'normal week' here!
Every single day throws up new opportunities and challenges, in fact if I didn't update my journal at the close of each day, we'd soon forget just how many different situations have been addressed and needs met through the wonderful, selfless dedication and compassion of the team here.
So in this blog I'll just walk you through our first full day as it happened, and pop in a few photos at the end, hoping this will give you a taste of what we're experiencing each and every day.
First though, its important you understand how sensitive the work here among the refugees is. Many have fled from very dangerous situations in their home countries and are living every day in fear of being recognised. This could be disasterous for both them and the families they've often left behind. For this reason no photos of refugees or their real names will be used in this and future blogs (unless they give us their express permission to do so). Any 'stories' we relate from here on are competely true, but names will have been changed to protect their identities!
My last blog ended with a growing sense of excitement that on Wednesday we'd finally be meeting some of these precious refugees - so I'll begin right there!
Wednesdays at the Oasis begin at 9:00 am with a two hour German language course. After a quick break for lunch the afternoon programme caters for women and kiddies, and then at 6:00 pm the Oasis again opens its doors for a evangelical outreach programme which generally finishes around 10:00-10:30pm. A pretty long day!
Neal opted to attend the German course while I stayed home to prepare for the ladies afternoon. This was his first opportunity to get to know some of the 'refugee students.' He soon got into conversation with a 17 year old Albanian boy who spoke no German but understood a little English. He'd arrived late the previous night, frightened and alone. The camp was already locked for the night, so he'd slept in a special 'emergency room' provided by the Oasis. Neal invited him to come back for the evening programme and he did! Here's the story in Neal's words:
"Tonight I got to share my testimony and talk at length with a young Albanian boy that I met at German class this morning. It's heartbreaking to hear how a boy of 17 has made the journey alone to a foreign country. Today he was allowed into the camp, and was immediately threatened by Afghan guys. He dared not stand up to them because any infringement of his parole for fighting would result in automatic expulsion back to Albania. He listened intently to my testimony of the love of Jesus but when I went to hand him a Bible in his own language he recoiled saying 'I am interested in your words but I must not touch your Christian book.' This young man has already been moved on to a processing centre in Vienna and I will probably not see him again. Please pray that the seed sown will germinate in his heart and God will send another labourer in this harvest field to water it."
The afternoon ladies' and children's programme was low-key, informal and a lot of fun. Its so important for these ladies to have an opprtunity to come into a non-threatening environment where they can feel safe, welcomed and relaxed. We laid the tables with fruit, snacks, biscuits and cake and provided cups of sweet chai, coffee and hot chocolate. There were colouring pencils and paper; games for the older children and a 'carpet corner' filled with toys for the toddlers. One of the Austrian volunteers had brought several packs of pretty gold 'temporary tattoo transfers' of flowers and jewellry, which proved to be a real hit with both the ladies and their little girls.
One by one the ladies started to arrive - grandmothers, young mothers with their children and young teenage girls in shy little groups. There were several nationalities represented - Afghani; Iranian; Syrian; Somali; Russian and others. Some were still languishing in the camp waiting apprehensively for the first 'green card' stage of their asylum applications to be heard, others had already been through the initial 'processing' stage. They were now holders of 'white cards' and were living in small apartments or 'pensions' in the surrounding area. Some were able to speak a little English and it was heartbreaking to hear of lost loved ones; homes and possessions lost or destroyed and the overwhelming fear of 'starting over' in a completely new country and culture. The children seemed to have adapted much better, the school-age ones chattering away fluently in German. The older ladies sat silently, drinking chai, smiling or nodding on eye-contact but not making any attempt to converse. How difficult it must be for them, and how important that we just show them love and acceptance. For me it was a very humbling and almost overwhelming afternoon.
Neal returned to the Oasis at 5:00 pm and we helped to clear the room and prepare it for the evening outreach programme. There was just time to pop around the corner to grab a quick kebab (or kebop as its called here!) before heading back for the 6:00 pm session. This was a real eye-opener! I'll let Neal take over from here:
"I went out with Ali (an Iranian convert from Islam who is now one of our most trusted interpreters) to hand out invitations for tonight's event to various groups 'hanging out' on the local streets. We had a lot of fun, and soon gathered together a little troup of Nigerians, Pakistanis, Iranians and Afghani men and women, who we escorted back to the Oasis! By this time the team had started playing worship music videos from the Egyptian Cavern Church via Youtube and Sat7. We handed out New Testaments in their native languages to all who would take them, and Jeremy, one of the team members gave a short, simple gospel message with Ali interpreting into Farsi. Most of the crowd listened attentively and respectfully to what was said. Afterwards, as we broke for coffee and cake, we re-assembled into small groups for questions. Ali invited me to share the story of how I came to faith in Christ, which he interpreted to the main Farsi speaking group. In another corner, an English-speaking Pakistani was interpreting my story in Urdu to a smaller group. Many questions were asked and answered tonight. Before the last person left at around 10:30 pm, they had all been invited to return the next night for a cafe style coffee and games night!"
So - all in all, Wednesday was a very, very full day! I guess we're well and truly on the 'mission field' now!
The photos below were all taken around the Oasis this week. More next time ......Our love to you all
Neal & Lesley