Dirndl Tag at the Baden Gemeinde on Sunday morning. Neal is with Stephanie, one of the full time Oasis team members, who's proudly wearing her beautiful dirndl - the Austrian National Dress.
There's something supernaturally special about the Oasis that just wraps itself around you like a soft warm comfort blanket, making you feel safe, loved, wanted - like you belong.
We felt it the first time we walked through the door on our first visit here last year, and on Monday morning - there it was again. Safety, welcome, acceptance, compassion and overwhelming love seemed to radiate from the very fabric of the building. The past 11 months melted away, and it was just like we'd never left!
I'm certain the hundreds - nay thousands - of refugees who've walked timidly through the same front door over the past 30 some years, have felt it too. They may have no idea what 'it' is, but they could never deny its existence.
A stubborn, persistent, relentless but oh so tender love that reveals itself at first in a simple acknowledging nod of the head, a smile, a warm handshake, a gentle hug. An offered mug of hot, sweet chai or coffee, a slice of cake, a biscuit, a piece of fruit or chocolate ..... a seat at a table, a listening ear, a place to relax, to breathe, and just 'be.'
No amount of human effort can replicate this love, because its source isn't human, it flows from the depths of the heart of God. The God who IS love. The God who longs to display his love through us.
Well, we definitely 'hit the ground running' on this our first week here. Saturday was spent unpacking, doing some grocery shopping and familiarizing ourselves with our accommodation and the surrounding area.
Our apartment here in Traiskirchen is HUGE, very well equipped and only a three minute walk from the Oasis. We're so grateful to the Lincoln family for loaning it to us while they're on furlough in the USA.
On Sunday morning we walked up through the vineyards to the evangelical church in Tribuswinkel for the 9:30am service. It was such a joy to see many faces we recognised from last year. We were very warmly welcomed, lots of hugs and typical Austrian friendliness. This Sunday just happened to be the annual 'Dirndl Tag' - the day Austrians proudly wear their national dress (think 'Sound of Music' and you'll get the idea). The ladies looked amazing in their beautiful Dirndls and many of the guys were wearing lederhosen with the ubiquitous brightly coloured check shirts.
On Monday morning we were at the Oasis by 9:00am to start unpacking the suitcase full of donations for refugees we'd brought with us from Corsham Baptist Church, and to help the team set up ready for the weekly clothing room ministry. This week it was men's clothing day, and hundreds of donated items for men were soon deftly transferred to shelves and hangers, ready for the doors opening straight after lunch. This week a total of 54 men from several nations were able to help themselves to clothing, shoes and other personal items, along with tea, coffee, biscuits and a programme in their own language inviting them to the other events put on by the Oasis every week.
On Tuesday morning we joined the team for our weekly devotional, prayer and worship time, followed by the very important business meeting. (Pray for me guys - from next week I'm taking over responsibility for doing the minutes!) And in the evening Neal attended the weekly prayer meeting for refugees.
At 8:00am on Wednesday Neal was back at the Oasis to host both the beginners and advanced German language classes and prepare a huge vat of hot, spiced chai ready for the refugee women & kids 'open house' afternoon (affectionately known as 'Chai Time.")
As Neal arrived back at the apartment, we said a hurried "hello" and "goodbye" as I left to help set up for the ladies. We welcomed between 25-30 ladies this week, and around half a dozen children. It was so rewarding to see them relax, chat and enjoy a variety of crafts together. I was particularly moved by a sweet young Armenian boy who was brought in in a wheelchair. One of the Oasis team, Jonell, explained that he'd been coming for some weeks now. These are her words:
"He was in an accident in Armenia and as a result is in constant pain. He cannot walk because of the pain, not because he is unable. Physical touch in his back or neck causes pain. Lifting his head causes pain. He cannot play, he cannot sleep well. He is a talented artist and when he's not in too much pain, he will sit and draw beautiful drawings. God has asked me to pray for him. To pray until something happens. I am asking you to join me in praying boldly for him. I told his mom that I will not stop praying for him until he is healed. I would love to be able to tell her that there are many other people committed to praying for him as well."
I've included a couple of photos of 'A's recent drawings at the bottom of this blog. It would be great if I could tell Jonell and this precious child's Mum, that our friends and supporters back home in the UK are praying for him too. Would that be OK?
Well friends, straight after saying farewell (in several languages!) to the Chai Time ladies, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and started setting up for the Wednesday Night Evangelistic Meeting. A whole new crowd of Ukranian young men arrived as well as some Afghans, Iranians and a couple of guys from North Africa. It was great to find some Ukranian worship music on YouTube which we played along with some Farsi worship songs to open the meeting. Our new Armenian friend was there too, along with another Armenian family. I took the photo at the top of this blog as Ali was preaching and Leila (an old friend of the Oasis) was interpreting. By the time we got home it was past 10:30pm..... two extremely tired but very happy Brits!
Thursday night at the Oasis is Coffee Bar time. This is a very relaxed, informal night where we lay out a variety of board games and drawing equipment, serve drinks and snacks, and invite refugees to watch the Jesus Film in their own language, in one of four video rooms. (The Oasis now has the Jesus Film available in 50+ languages.) Here's Neal's memory of the evening:
"I sat for a while playing Connect Four with yet another young man called Ali. After about half an hour our translator Ali invited me to join him in talking to four young Afghan men at the next table. Before long we invited them to one of the upstairs rooms to watch the Jesus Film in Farsi.
A short while into the film one of the men became 'upset' and angry. Voicing his disapproval he got up and left noisily. Another of the group followed his friend down the stairs, and then the third made a move to leave, pulling on the arm of my fourth and last new friend, remonstrating with him and trying to persude him to leave also.
I could do nothing but pray. But, waving him away, the last young man (I'll call him M) remained to the end of the film and started asking questions afterwards. With the expert help of our interpreter Ali, I was able to speak to him of Jesus' authority to forgive sin. Receiving the message, M asked Jesus to wash away his sin and come into his life as Lord.
Please pray that M will be empowered to stand fast in these next few days, to his holy confession."
Well - that's about it for this week folks! Thanks so much for your prayers, texts, emails and messages. We miss you all lots, but we know for sure this is where we need to be right now.
On a personal note - please especially pray for me (Lesley) as I seem to have picked up some flu-type bug which has knocked me for six since last night. Maybe I should post a photo of the pile of used tissues, pills and potions beside my laptop right now, haha!
Sorry this is such a long blog - but hey, at least you can see we've been busy!
Until next time, dear ones
Yours in Him, for Him and only through Him
Lesley & Neal