Oasis volunteers praying together before last week's children's clothing room day
Dear friends, first I must apologise for the tardiness of this blog update. My only excuse is that God has had other plans for us these past few days, and this is the first opportunity I've had to sit at my laptop and calm my thoughts sufficiently to write something meaningful to share.
Day-to-day life at the Oasis Centre is not controlled by the weather (consistently very, very hot) or the personal circumstances of its team and volunteers. We've been so impressed with the amazing work ethic here - ministering to the needs of the refugees takes left, right and centre stage at all times, and it's been a tremendous privilege to serve with those who not only know the meaning of 'love in action', but actually live it out in every conceivable practical way - every single day!
So what have we been up to since our last chat? Well, on Monday last week it was children's clothing room day. We had 35 families (some with as many as 6 kiddies in tow) through the door. Prior to opening we'd packed the room with rails full of boys' and girls' clothing, shoes, babies' clothing and accessories - and always happens, during the afternoon more boxes of quality donated items continued to 'mysteriously appear' from the basement storage area (which is a veritable Tardis!) I've included some photos of our little clothing room at the bottom of this blog.
What a joy to watch weary parents and their little ones being immediately greeted with warm smiles and hugs, and handed big mugs of coffee or chai, cakes and biscuits. They arrived empty-handed, but left often completely weighed down with carrier bags full of much-needed items to take with them back to the camp. This week as well as clothing and shoes, we've handed out several school bags, pens and pencils, pampers in various sizes for babies and toddlers, a child's scooter and two pushchairs (in fact this week we've already ordered five brand new pushchairs to replenish our stock).
But as believers, we have so much more to give than material things like these. We've been commissioned by Jesus to share the good news of the Gospel, and that is the driving force behind the ministry here. The Bible talks about caring for the widow, the orphan and the alien - and its often as we care for these precious ones that we discover the heart of God.
I've had two such discoveries this week. The first was on Thursday evening at the coffee bar outreach. There was lots of noise and laughter as coffee and cake was being joyfully served to the 40 or so refugee 'customers' that had come in off the street to join us that night. Before long, around half of our visitors left the main room to watch one of the four Jesus Films we were showing, and I started gathering up the empty coffee cups. Later, as Neal played chess and chatted with a young guy I'd not seen before (and got soundly beaten I might add) I sat at a little table where we had laid out some freshly-sharpened coloured pencils and drawings to colour in.
Almost absentmindedly I started colouring a picture of a vase of flowers - getting so engrossed in what I was doing I barely noticed a middle-aged gentleman from Afghanistan come to sit quietly next to me. Without speaking he pointed to my half-finished picture and slowly shook his head. I looked up into his eyes which were full of tears as without a word he picked up another photocopy of 'my picture' and started colouring in the roses and anenomes. His hand was shaking as he started, but as the flowers in his picture came to life his hand steadied, his tears stopped falling, and the finished result was absolutely breathtaking! He shared a little of his story with me as he worked, and I just marvelled at the simplicity of what was happening. There was something profoundly moving about watching a grown man putting so much of himself into what we would consider a childish activity. Its just wonderful how God uses 'little things' like this to bring healing and peace to troubled souls.
The second 'heart of God' moment I want to share happened at the women's afternoon outreach this week. A lady I shall call H, came in with her two young sons, aged 2 and 9, and daughter aged 12, who spoke very good English. The family have been visiting the Oasis for several weeks. They're from Iran. H is a widow and she has an older son aged 13, who was confined to camp this week due to chicken pox! (More of this young man another time!)
I sat with the family around the table as the daughter, who was very talkative, wanted to explain the route they had taken to get from Iran into Austria. We have a large atlas at the Oasis, so I got it out and they all gathered around, excitedly pointing out towns they'd passed through on their long eight month journey. I learned that after travelling for weeks through Iran and Turkey, this precious mother and her little ones had safely crossed the sea from Turkey to one of the Greek islands.
But as we traced their route from Greece north through Macedonia, the mood around the table suddenly became very sombre. The little girl drew much closer to her mother's side as she explained that her 10 year old brother had drowned as they crossed a freezing a river in the Macedonian mountains.
As the horror of what had happened unfolded, both H and myself were overcome with tears (I seem to do an awful lot of crying lately). And then I just knew that the Lord wanted me to tell her that I also, had recently lost a son. Gripping my hand tightly she looked up at me and whispered: "You too?" And in that precious moment of 'bonding' this sweet lady actually sought to comfort me! A couple of the volunteers saw what was happening and came over to join us as I asked the daughter if Mum would like me to pray to Isa (Jesus) for her.
By this time, H had buried her head against my shoulder, quietly sobbing as her arms held tightly around my waist - so dignified in her grief. I felt her head nodding in assent so I prayed and her beautiful daughter interpreted as best she could. As we eventually let go of each other and started to dry our eyes, the 9 year old son grabbed me by the hand saying: "Too many tears ... piano ... music ... piano!" He dragged me over to the battered old instrument, I lifted the lid and began to play the first thing that came into my mind - the old kiddies' song: "Jesus' love is very wonderful."
As soon as she heard the melody, my Austrian friend, who speaks very little English, leapt forward and began singing the words in German and demonstrating the actions! Oh what an amazing example of how Jesus 'turns our mourning into dancing', for as I looked around Mum and daughter had left their chairs at the table and were indeed dancing beside me as I played! So dear friends, as you can see life here is full of tragic stories and unexpected joy. Before signing off for this week Neal would like you to know that he's discovered the reality of Psalm 103:5 "...who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's." Here's his little anecdote:
When we were in Nepal I was known in the local dialect as 'Mae-mae' which means 'Grandfather.' This week, after a robust Q&A session with some of the young Muslim guys, I was approached by one of the more vocal chaps who wished to apologise. "Forgive me, Father, I ask too many question. I am not Christian, but I want to know the truth. I am sorry." So there you are - I've been renewed, and been upgraded from being a grandfather to a father!
In the next blog we'll tell you all about our visit from the Bible Society and I'm sure there will be other stories of praise and prayer to share with you. I hope you enjoy the photos below .....
Until next time, may you know His abundant grace and perfect peace.
With our love
Neal & Lesley