They're here! Our pastors Eddie and Kathy Larkman arriving at Vienna airport for a 'flying visit' to the Oasis Centre last week
Oh my days! So much has happened since my last blog I'm honestly not sure where to start this one! Life has been so 'crazy busy' here at the Oasis I've even neglected to keep my personal journal updated - big mistake as my mind is now full of a myriad little 'vignettes' with no real sense of chronological order to them. I suppose I'll just have to dive into my memory bank and hope I can pull out some stories that will be of interest to those who are taking time out to read these ramblings today!
One of the hardest things about this ministry is its transient nature. We meet new refugees almost every day, and with some of them close relationships are very quickly formed. We open our hearts and homes to them, we pray with them, weep with them, encourage them, listen to their often harrowing stories and do all we can to help restore their sense of dignity and self-worth. The Oasis team help them in many practical ways by providing clothing, footwear, toiletries and many other kinds of 'personal' things they've had to do without during the months they've spent wearily travelling the refugee highway. We hold nothing of ourselves back as we befriend them and their little ones, trusting God to show His love through us and bring His healing to these broken hearts and lives on emotional, physical and spiritual levels.
But then, as quickly as they came into our lives, many of these precious new friends are suddenly gone, transferred to other areas at a moment's notice, usually without any opportunity to say goodbye - and now the tables are turned - we are the ones left feeling abandoned and totally bereft! Although some have mobile phones (generally with very little 'credit' on them) and others have social media accounts (although wifi access is always a problem) its very difficult to keep in touch, especially when factoring in the many language barriers. So we just keep them in our prayers, cherish every memory of them, and trust that the seeds of love we've sown into their lives will be watered elsewhere on their continuing journey.
One such family was the Afghan bank manager, his wife and three young sons we met during our first weeks here (you can read some of their story in the 30th Aug blog). We only had two short weeks with this lovely family before they were transferred out of the Lager - just enough time to provide them with some clothes for themselves and the children and listen to their horrific story of fleeing for their lives across two continents. Just enough time to share the Gospel with them, show them the Jesus film in their own language and give each of them a Farsi bible to keep. Please continue to remember this dear family in your prayers.
Back in the blog dated 23rd Aug I told you about S, a young Iranian refugee who has recently become a Christian, and was due to have his 'asylum interview' very soon. Neal and I spent a lot of time with this vulnerable young man, as did all the Oasis staff. He became very dear to our hearts. Unfortunately his application to stay in Austria was denied and he was told he would be deported to Croatia, the country where his first 'official' photograph was taken after entering Europe. S was distraught by this news, and last week, despite our advice to stay here and appeal the decision, he decided to 'take a chance' and cross the border into Germany illegally. There is no more we can do for him now but pray.....
On 15th Sept and again on 27th Sept, I told you about H, the beautiful young Iranian widow with five children, who's 10 year old son had tragically drowned as they travelled through Macedonia. H and her little ones have continued to come regularly to the Oasis programmes. At the time of writing they are still housed in the Lager. Each of the children have had chicken pox while in the camp, which has meant someone has always had to stay behind on 'programme nights' to care for the one who is sick. We're hoping this Wednesday the whole family will come to see us. H has another eye appointment at the hospital towards the end of October. I have no more information about the seriousness of her condition. We're trusting God that the problem can be treated and her sight restored so she can read the Farsi bible we gave her. Every time I see her, H is still wearing the brightly coloured scarf I gave her. Her children often message me on facebook - they've even 'video-called' me from their little room in the Lager a couple of times. I don't know when they will be transferred, it could be any day. Please pray she will respond to the Gospel message and we will have opportunity to pray with her before that day comes.
Last week we were thrilled to have our pastor from Corsham Baptist Church, Eddie Larkman and his lovely wife Kathy come out here to stay with us for a few days. They arrived on Tuesday afternoon so were here for Wednesday and Thursday - the busiest days at the Oasis. On Wednesday afternoon Kathy and I joined the team serving at the women and children's outreach. We helped prepare snacks, make coffee and chai and lay out various craft activities on the tables ready for the 2pm start. But by 2:40 only one lady had come through the door - definitely not the busy, exciting afternoon I had promised Kathy! So Stephanie, Kathy and I decided to put on our coats and walk down towards the Lager to hand out invitations. We had barely gone a couple of hundred yards when we met a young Nigerian girl who was obviously in some distress. F had tried to get into the Lager but had been turned away as she'd lost her white identity card. She was 19 years old, two months pregnant and had not slept or eaten for over 24 hours. She was cold, dejected, tired and feeling utterly miserable. Kathy and I invited her straight back to the Oasis for a hot coffee and some cake. We found her some warm shoes and socks (she had only bare feet and the ubiqutous flip-flops) and a warm fleecy winter jacket.
As F was relaxing in the warmth of the Oasis, drinking her coffee, Stephanie arrived with a whole 'new' refugee family in tow. We soon learned that B and her husband S were both highly qualified medical doctors from Iraq. They were parents of two beautiful little girls, and had only just arrived in Austria. This obviously highly intelligent, recently wealthy, middle-class family were now confined to one little room in the Lager. Being a refugee here in Austria (or anywhere else in the world) is a great 'leveller.' They were just exploring the area around the Lager when Stephanie found them. They had not yet heard of the Oasis but were happy to come and 'check us out.' So for once we broke the 'no men allowed on Wednesday afternoons' rule and served this lovely little family coffee and snacks as we sat and listened to their story. Kathy in particular, spent quite a bit of time in deep conversation with them.
Michi, one of our Austrian volunteers (and soon-to-be Oasis intern alongside her husband Christoph) offered to take F back to their home for the night, and return with her to the Lager the next day to pick up her replacement white card. She was so exhausted she'd fallen asleep with her head on the table! Meanwhile B and S, whose spoken English was excellent, said they'd love to come back for the evening programme at 7:00 pm. Before they left we were able to provide them with a pushchair for their youngest daughter who had just turned 3. Several other refugee ladies joined us during the afternoon, which turned out to be a truly memorable one for all of us!
At 5:00 pm Neal and Eddie arrived bringing sustenance in the form of five huge kebabs for us to share, before we all started preparations for the evening outreach. Refugees from many countries including Afghanistan; Iran; Somalia; Nigeria and Pakistan came through the door ... but the first to arrive were B and S and their beautiful daughters from Iraq. They listened intently to the entire presentation, which was given in English and translated into Farsi. They'd brought with them two young Iraqi woman they'd just met in the Lager. Neither understood much English, so we asked our new doctor friend to quietly translate the message into Arabic for them - and he was more than happy to oblige! Before they left they all gladly received copies of the New Testament in Arabic, and promised to return again on Thursday evening to watch the Jesus film. After the gospel presentation ended we served coffee and cake while Ali commandered Eddie and Neal to join him upstairs with a large group of young refugees for a Q&A session. Eddie was 'in his element,' fielding questions like 'How can we grow in Christ?' and partaking in a very lively debate on the love of God versus the judgement of God. He even had ample opportunity to put his considerable grasp of the German language to good use!
On Thursday evening the coffee bar was packed, and as promised B and S returned with their girls, bringing with them one of the young ladies they'd introduced us to the previous night. Their first words to us were "We're not interested in playing games tonight, we've come to watch the film about Jesus you promised us." Kathy happily accompanied them into one of the small 'video rooms' where they all sat quietly watching the entire two hour film in Arabic. As I collected coffee cups in the main room, I noticed Eddie in deep conversation with a young Iranian over a game of chess - brilliant! That night we played jenga; connect four; draughts; chess; uno and backgammon. We did jigsaw puzzles and coloured pictures. We also showed the Jesus film in Farsi and Urdu to quite large groups of refugees. When the films and games were over, another intense Q&A 'discipleship' session took place upstairs as the rest of us stacked away chairs, swept and mopped the floors, cleaned out coffee and chai making machines and got the room set up ready for Friday morning's 9:00am German language lesson. By this time it was around 10:30pm, yet we still had problems dragging Eddie away! We were all seriously grateful to Ali for a ride home in his car.
So another week at the Oasis drew to a close and on Friday after a sad farewell to Eddie and Kathy, we packed a small case and set off on our weekend team retreat to the beautiful little town of Melk. In my next blog I'll share a little about the retreat, and bring you some more of the yet-to-be-written stories that will undoubtedly occur during our last week and a half here!
Once again Neal and I want to thank you all for your beautifully written cards, emails, texts, prayers and encouragement. None of this would be possible without the love and support of our precious friends and family back home.
Enjoy the photos below, and until next time may you know the love, peace, joy and abiding presence of our precious Heavenly Father in every area of your lives.
With our love always
Neal & Lesley