Neal outside the Oasis. It's ideally situated close to the Lager, and right opposite the little railway station at Traiskirchen.
Hello again dear friends and family!
Many, many stories are fighting for position in my thoughts this hot Tuesday evening, as I'm sitting at my desk preparing to write this week's blog. It would take far too long to recount even half of what's happened since I last wrote, so I've prayfully consulted my journal to pull out just one encounter that I trust will be of interest to you. I also want to share some specific areas into which those of you who would like to, can pray.
As you know, Wednesday afternoons at the Oasis are set aside exclusively for refugee women of all ages, including the young children that inevitably cling to their legs most of the day. Last Wednesday we set the meeting room out as usual, this time with lots of small bottles of nail varnish, nail-varnish remover and Q-tips so the ladies could give or receive a manicure while enjoying coffee or chai, biscuits, fruit and most importantly conversation with each other and the Oasis volunteers. Making new friends is a crucial part of the ministry at the Oasis.
I sat for a while with two Farsi speaking ladies, one a 16 year old girl from Iran (well, she said she was 16 but looked several years older to me!) and the other a very quiet and incredibly sad-looking lady with three very young boys, who I later discovered was from Afghanistan. The two women could not have been more different. The teenager, who I shall refer to as G, was full of confidence and typical teenager chat about her favourite pop stars, taking 'selfies' and the latest 'aps' on her mobile phone. She'd been in Austria for several months and had just been transferred to the Lager. She soon made friends with some of the other younger women in the room and was off to another table to get her manicure done.
The older lady, clothed from head to toe in black, just sat staring blankly into space, while her boys tucked ravenously into the various snacks laid out on the table. I was unsure how to start a conversation with her, so began by offering her coffee and some more water and extra food for those hungry little boys. I told her that I too, was a mother of three boys, and as I smiled at her and we made eye contact she started to weep. Big, heavy, silent tears rolled down her cheeks and almost immediately I found myself crying with her. I reached across the table and took hold of her hand, and then, without any prompting and in almost perfect English she started to tell me her story. I'm going to share it with you here, and as you read, please pray for her and her little family. Their story is just one of many hundreds represented at the Lager, but this is just one that I was privileged to hear first hand.....
P and her little family had arrived in Austria 10 days earlier, after an arduous seven month journey from their home in Afghanistan. Her husband, a bank manager in a major Afghan city, had been threatened at knife point by the Taliban several times as they demanded money, and on four occasions they'd placed a bomb under his bank. The fourth time he narrowly escaped very serious injury in the blast, and when he got home to his family that night, they made an impulsive decision to leave everything behind and flee for their lives.
They travelled by bus across Afghanistan, from east to west through Iran and Turkey to the Turkish coast - I suggest you look at a map to see just how far that actually is! After paying out a small fortune to cross to Greece they almost drowned as the overcrowded fishing boat they were in started to sink. (At this point in her story the oldest son looked up at me and said quite matter-of-factly "The boat was really cool!") Just in time, a Greek coastguard vessel saw them sinking and brought them safely to shore although some in the boat drowned.
They had no money or possessions left, just the clothes they stood up in. They walked through Greece into Macedonia where they spent 12 days in the 'mountain forests' alone with no food - drinking water from puddles and the occasional mountain stream. It was very humid in the forest, and it rained almost constantly. They were tired, soaking wet, very hungry, frightened and alone. The youngest boy (I guess around 4 years old) was bitten by a mosquito and got a horrendous infection in his arm which is still not properly healed.
Eventually they reached the Hungarian border where they were made to wait with hundreds of other refugees for four days, before being given a 'number' and allowed across the border. During this time they were each allowed only one small bottle of water and a piece of bread a day. Can you imagine how this must have felt? This little family had left behind their home and all their belongings, even precious photos of the children as babies. Her husband had cried out over the border fence "We are good people, why won't you let us in?"
P had been studying to be a doctor before the Taliban threw all the women out of university. Theirs had been a very respectable, middle-class life, yet now they were penniless in a foreign country with a sick young child and no idea where they would be taken to next. Well, praise God they were eventually brought into Austria, to the Lager in Traiskirchen, and now here she was, sitting in front of me in the Oasis meeting room, holding tightly onto my hand.
What do you do, what do you say after hearing such a heart-wrenching story? I did the first thing that came into my head ... I didn't hide my tears but walked around the table, put my arms around her and hugged her tight. Her boys jumped up and joined in and there we stood - a sad, weeping huddle.
I told her that the Oasis was here to help. That we were Christians that loved Jesus and loved the refugees. I gave her an Oasis weekly programme in Farsi, and told her we would be holding an event that night to which she, her husband and boys would be most welcome. As she left, she thanked me, and promised she'd be back with her husband.
Well, she was true to her word! The whole family came back at 7:00pm and sat listening intently to the music and the Gospel presention, despite many interruptions from other refugees who were wandering in and out.
I was able to introduce her husband to Neal and they chatted for about 20 minutes before Neal offered him a Farsi New Testament (in a plain wrapper) which he accepted gratefully, taking it back to the Lager with him. Such a dignified, beautiful but world-weary little family. They have touched our hearts so much. PLEASE pray for their salvation and healing from the terrible shock and emotional scars of the past months.
Before they left, we invited them back for games night and to watch the Jesus film on Thursday, and to German language classes on Friday morning, but on both occasions there was no sign of them and we'd almost given up hope of seeing them again. Families with young children are generally 'processed' faster than the single young men at the Lager and we thought they had probably already been moved on.
But try as we might, we just couldn't get them out of our minds! You know how sometimes you just KNOW that God has put His hand on someone and they are 'special' somehow? Its really hard to explain, but we weren't prepared to just 'let them go.'
So we kept praying for them over the weekend, and on Monday morning as we arrived to set up for 'men's clothing day,' sitting patiently on the bench outside was P's husband and the three boys! He greeted us warmly, explaining they'd been back and forth to the hospital getting their youngest boy treated, so hadn't had chance to come back to the Oasis until today.
How amazing is that? We're so excited and looking forward to what God will do to bless this precious family. We're hoping to invite them back to our little apartment to share a meal with us later this week. Please pray that this will be possible.
Enjoy the photos below! Until next time ...........
Neal & Lesley