Refugees gathering together for the Wednesday evening outreach programme
In our last blog we shared the story of how just one full day unfolded for us here at the Oasis. Now another amazing week has flown by and we're just in awe of all that God is doing in and through this wonderful ministry.
Hot, dusty, sweaty, challenging, often daunting, strenuous and totally exhausting? Yes, all of those things and more, but we wouldn't be anywhere else on this planet right now, because we know beyond any shadow of doubt that right here, right now is where God wants us to be!
So, since I left you last time at the close of a very busy Wednesday (the little photo above was taken through the 'coffee bar hatch' as the meeting room started to fill with refugees from Afghanistan, Albania, Iran, Somalia, Nigeria and Chechnya) I'll pick up this week's story from Thursday onwards.
Thursday morning we woke early to pray for a young Iranian believer who I'll refer to as S, who was having his first asylum interview at 8:00 am. He'd been in tears the previous night as he told us his photo had been taken by the Croatian authorities as he'd passed through on his way to Austria (although they hadn't taken his fingerprint) and he was terrified of being sent back there. He's accepted Christ, been baptised and is a member of a weekly discipleship class at the local evangelical church. His only friends in the whole of Europe are here. He was very happy for me to share his story and prayer request here, so please remember him and his ongoing situation in your prayers. He will learn the outcome of his interview in around two week's time.
We spent the morning updating our journals, reading and doing general household chores, then at midday we walked down to the train station in Traiskirchen to meet F, another young Iranian refugee who has recently become a Christian. F had invited us to join him for lunch in the cramped little room he shares with three other refugee believers in Guntramsdorf.
Oh my days .... what a banquet these guys had prepared for us out of their meagre allowance of around three euros each per day! We dined on fresh peaches, oranges and bananas, followed by massive helpings of Iranian spiced spaghetti (he's going to give me the recipe) with delicious sliced cucumber and onion, olives, home-made yoghurt and huge hunks of fresh bread, all washed down with endless cups of sweet chai tea. What a treat .... I've included a photo at the end of this blog just to make you all jealous!
We relaxed, chatted and laughed together - they found our valiant attempts to say a few words in Farsi highly amusing - and then joined them in their Thursday Bibe Study group in a downstairs room. The study was led by a brilliant young Austrian Doctor of Neurology called Christoph, who has recently been miraculously healed from brain cancer (that's a story for another time) and he was ably translated by Ali, a former refugee who's been a Christian for over two years and is fast becoming a very, very dear friend.
After the study group finished Ali drove us back to the Oasis where we were just in time to help set up the meeting room for the coffee bar, games and Jesus Film night. By 7:30 pm the room was packed with smiling faces of all ages and cultures, happily playing chess, draughts, jenga, backgammon and other board games I'd never heard of ... all the while enjoying coffee, cake and conversations with each other and the Oasis team. After an hour or so we turned on the DVD players in the videos rooms and started showing the Jesus Film. We had groups of Pakistani men, women and kiddies (watching in Urdu in two different rooms) a mixed Afghan and Iranian group watching in Farsi, and a large group of Somali refugees watching in their language. I joined the Pakistani ladies and kiddies, praying quietly alongside them as they watched. One young lad was deeply moved by the film, and Ali asked Neal to pray with him after it had finished.
On Friday morning we went to our second German class at Oasis. Such a small world ... Marlene, the Austrian lady who teaches the class is married to a guy called David who was born and brought up in Lower Swainswick, Bath and now works for Trans World Radio in Vienna! As Neal was trying to concentrate on 'not splitting his infinitives' he looked up and recognised across the room the distinctive dyed blond hair of his Albanian refugee friend from last week. I'll let Neal continue the story:
"I was really impressed that he'd come back despite being transferred to other accomodation in Vienna, which meant he'd had to get up pretty early to catch the train to get to the class for 9:00 am. I'm so glad I'm an 'inveterate hugger' as most of you at CBC know! At the end of the class, this young man and I greeted each other like long-lost friends. We walked together to the local ice-cream parlour where I treated him to a couple of scoops of delicious locally made ice-cream, whilst trying to explain something of the British sense of humour (failing miserably but having a great deal of fun nonetheless). He insisted on returning to Oasis with me to help clean up after the class, and before leaving to catch his train back to Vienna he accepted Christian literature in his own language and promised to read it! Evangelism is fun when you keep it simple ... loving God, being kind to people, and talking about Jesus a lot!"
On Monday it was 'ladies' clothing day.' The whole team pulled together to fill the room with every conceivable type of women's clothing, shoes, handbags and personal items. When the doors opened at 1:30 pm there were 75 women waiting outside, not counting their numerous children! The ladies piled into the waiting area where we served them all with tea, coffee and biscuits. They were allowed into the clothing room in groups of four, and given time to chose whatever items they needed. Generally it took each group between 5-10 minutes to choose and fill their carrier bags with goodies, so you can imagine how long it took to get through all 75 of them!
A special moment for me, was when a group of brightly-dressed Somali women pushed excitedly through the door. A couple of them had already been chatting to Neal as he served them tea, and he overheard them ask one of the female team members "Please will you tell us more about your Jesus?" Stephanie was delighted to oblige, giving them various Somali literature and inviting them back for the Wednesday Outreach programmes. They had just arrived at the camp two days ago, and only had the clothes they were wearing. It was such a joy to be able to find them more of the brightly coloured clothing they love so much among the hundreds of donated items.
But my absolute highlight of the day had to be when a little six or seven-year-old Chechen boy who trotted in shyly behind his mother, suddenly grabbed a pair of ladies trainers off the shelf, hugging them to his little chest and refusing to let them go. It was a boiling hot day outside, and he was wearing completely worn-out, very heavy boots that were way too big for his little sock-less feet. The ladies trainers he'd grabbed were much too big too, but one of the guys on the team went straight down to our 'stock room' and brought up a couple of pairs of little boy's summer trainers for him to try on. The look on that precious little face was priceless as he walked out wearing one pair, together with a brand new pair of socks, and clutching a second pair in a little carrier bag. Surely this is what its all about, folks!
More next time ..............
Love and blessings to you all
Neal & Lesley