Praying with H as her precious little 12 year old daughter interprets for me
Hello dear friends!
Once again I'm really sorry for the belated appearance of this blog. It's due (in part) to our hosting two lovely ladies from our home church in Corsham all week, but mainly because so much has been happening lately we've barely had chance to take a breath!
We've definitely transitioned from summer to autumn here in Traiskirchen. Many of the luscious bunches of grapes in the vineyards around us have been harvested (see photo below), the nights are drawing in and there's a disinct chill in the air. The work of Oasis however, continues whatever the weather, and the refugees are always so thankful for a warm place to feel welcomed and relaxed, where they can drink coffee or chai, eat cake, socialise and just be for a little while with people who truly care about them and their many needs.
Yesterday was men's clothing room day, and for the first time in several years there was slight anxiety among the staff that there wouldn't be enough warm winter clothing for the scores of new young guys who are arriving at the camp daily. Recently, many of the new arrivals here are from the African continent where they've never experienced chill winds, ice and snow. All 'banana boxes' packed with men's winter clothing in our store rooms have now been opened, and the majority of the contents distributed. As the weather gets increasingly colder, please pray with us that more clothing will become available before the next men's clothing day.
Last week I told you about H, a beautiful Iranian mother of five who'd been tragically widowed 18 months ago, and then lost her 10 year old son in a horrific drowning accident while travelling on the refugee highway through Macedonia. Since my last blog H and her little ones have been back to see us at the Oasis several times. The oldest boy, an extremely bright, handsome and intelligent lad of 13, befriended me on facebook (yes, 'the book' really does have its uses) and Neal and I have been able to use this technology to continue developing a good relationship with the whole family. They've even 'video-called' us a couple of times from their little room in the Lager in the past 24 hours!
It soon became apparent to us that H has great problems with her eyesight. She wears reading glasses (though I doubt they were actually prescribed for her) but is unable to identify faces in photographs or read texts and numbers on her little mobile phone. She's also very clearly struggling to deal with the negative effects of the unspeakable emotional trauma she's endured over the past months.
During the ladies' programme on Wednesday afternoon, one of our Austrian volunteers called Ulli, offered to ring a local health centre to make an appointment for her to see an optician. Amazingly the optician suggested Ulli bring her to his office straight away. There would be no charge! They left the Oasis together at 3:00 pm (taking the oldest son to act as interpreter) and didn't return until just before 7:00 pm. The local health centre houses opticians, general practitioners, psychiatric doctors and many more specialists all under one roof, and H had been given a thorough examination by them all. While we waited for their return we took the little ones upstairs and used some of the 'compassion fund' money given to us by CBC to buy them a nourishing meal, and ample food for H and her boy to enjoy when they came back.
By the time they returned, the Wednesday evening programme was already underway, so I ushered this dear little family back upstairs and sat with them while they ate. One of my church friends, Jude Davies had sent a large brightly coloured headscarf to me from England, with the message 'Lesley will know who this is for.' Well, dear H has been dressed only in black and grey every time I've seen her, so I was a little unsure how she'd react to something so colourful, but I felt compelled to give it to her with the words 'This is a reminder to you, every time you wear it, that God wants to bring colour back into your life.' Her reaction was just wonderful! She pulled off her old grey scarf (she had stunning, thick, long plaited hair underneath it) and proudly wrapped her new scarf around her head and shoulders. Her smile just lit up the room. Jude - if you're reading this, please know the scarf went to the most deserving lady I've ever met! There's a photo of H wearing her new scarf with her children at the end of this blog. Her face has been deliberately pixilated to protect her identity.
Other news of H is not good. The optician believes there is something very seriously wrong behind her eyes, possiby with her brain. We don't wish to speculate on the diagnosis, but would implore all who are reading this to pray for a good outcome for this dear lady who has suffered so, so much already. She will be going for futher scans and tests this week.
On Wednesday, while I was upstairs with H, a young Muslim man we'd not met before was walking past the Oasis. He was invited in by a member of the team. The programme had already started, so he took the nearest seat which happened to be next to Neal. As the singing continued he began asking questions about Jesus and the Bible. His questions continued during the talk, which resulted in a 'friendly rebuke' to Neal from Ali who was giving the talk. When at one point, a young man was carried in on a stretcher as a visual aid to the Bible story being told (I'm sure you can guess which story it was), he asked rather incredulously "Is this man really paralyzed?" Neal assured him it was only a visual aid! R remained, sitting very attentively for the whole of the programme, and as he left said that he'd had a truly wonderful evening. He'd never heard anything like this in his entire life! We're praying that he'll return again soon so we can give him a New Testament in his own language.
Usually, as we're stacking chairs, sweeping and mopping floors at the end of the programme, Ali takes a refugee Q&A session in an upstairs room. This Wednesday however, one of the Iranian guys started to sing a Farsi worship song that I've just learned to play. So I lifted the piano lid, began to join in with the haunting minor chords many of these songs use. I was immediately surrounded by around a dozen young guys, lifting up their voices (with varying degrees of musicality) in praise of Isa, Messiah. They sang and sang, as I tried my level best to keep up with them! An outstanding end to a truly memorable day!
Before they flew home on Monday I asked both Louise and Joan to jot down one memorable incident from their time here at the Oasis.
Here is Louise's story:
On Thursday morning, Lesley, Neal and I went for a prayer walk around the refugee camp. As we walked and prayed together a young guy drew alongside us. He introduced himself as E, and as we chatted we learned that he was a 15 year old Nigerian boy who had been in the camp for two weeks. He'd travelled from Nigeria to Austria alone. Neal and Lesley kindly let me explain to E where the Oasis Centre was and the activities that take place there. I invited him to join us that evening for the coffee bar - as long as he wore his bright red cap so we could easily identify him!
At about 7:20 that night E and his friend G walked boldly into the coffee bar. We were thrilled! We made them coffee, then spent an hour or so listening as they told us their stories. They'd travelled up through the continent of Africa into Libya, and then spent 3 days at sea crossing to the Italian island of Lampedusa. During the crossing they had seen many people, including pregnant women drown. They were in Italy for several months, where they received very little help from the authorities and locals. They slept in a railway station and were reduced to begging in order to survive.
They were both very cold, just wearing thin teeshirts, so we were able to take them into the Oasis clothing room and find them some warm coats and shoes. From personal experience, coming from Africa, I don't do well in the cold Northern hemisphere. Lord, please help these precious young African men to endure the European winter!
After I chatted with them a while, E simply announced "You are my only friend in Europe." I was so touched by this. Neal took them into one of the small video rooms where they were able to watch the Jesus film. Afterwards they both said they'd love to come to church with us so Neal and I arranged to meet them outside the camp early on Sunday morning. Well, due to a misunderstanding we missed them on Sunday (we waited outside the camp entrance, while they stood waiting outside the Oasis building wondering where we were!) But on Monday morning both lads turned up for the men's clothing room day, where we were able to kit them out with brand new socks, underwear, a couple more warm sweaters and teeshirts, and Neal and Lesley arranged to meet them again next Sunday morning for church.
And as I left the Oasis for the very last time on Monday evening, E and G were there, on the street outside the camp, waiting to say a last goodbye. E said "I won't be able to eat tonight, I feel so sad that you are leaving." Thank you Lord for bringing these two boys safely to Austria. I pray they are given shelter and asylum - that they seek and find refuge in Austria and in You.
And here is Joan's memorable moment:
Ten years ago here in Austria I met L, a beautiful Armenian lady who told me her harrowing story. She was a widow who had been through all the twists and turns of the 'refugee system' and was then working at Christian residential accommodation in Guntramsdorf. 'Through many dangers, toils and snares' she had already come!
Since then I've met her several times while visiting the Oasis. I remember watching L dancing at a ladies' evening, very gracefully performing her national Armenian dancing, handkerchiefs twirling skilfully in her hands, and encouraging the other ladies to join her on the floor. Opportunities to dance can be very few and far between when you are a refugee!
L reappeared this week, recovering from open heart surgery, but still praising the Lord. She is well loved by the Oasis staff, where for many years now she has been coming faithfully every week to clean the upstairs meeting rooms and staff areas. When friends ask her where she gets all her very smart clothes she tells them "The Oasis in Traiskirchen!" L speaks very few words of English but she is an overcomer and a wonderful encourager, beautifully displaying the love of Christ.
So that's it for now folks! So much more I could write but this blog is already way too long. There'll be more next time ..... that's a promise!
Please keep us and all those we are serving in your prayers.
Love and blessings to you all
Neal & Lesley