Changing seasons ... changing needs and challenges ... but a God who never changes!

It’s beginning to feel decidedly autumnal here in Traiskirchen. Although the sun is still shining, its warmth is rapidly diminishing and the nights are drawing in. The local vineyards are being painstakingly hand-stripped of this year’s bountiful harvest, and all around us the trees are bursting into their last displays of beauty, their leaves tinged with glorious shades of gold, amber, russet red and deep, deep crimson.

The streets around the Oasis are lined with huge horse chestnut trees which as a result of recent very windy weather have strewn the roads and pavements with thousands of shiny brown ‘conkers.’ We’ve learned how to duck swiftly out of the way as they drop like little bombs when we hurry past, yet it’s somehow sad to see so many lying crushed and broken as feet, bicycle and car tyres have been unable to avoid them. Equally strange is the fact that I’ve had to seriously fight the urge to pick up and ‘pocket’ the occasional particularly large, healthy-looking specimen - probably a subconscious throwback to the ‘conker fights’ of my school days that were synonymous with this time of year!

So as the seasons come and go, the life and work of the Oasis Ministry continues faithfully on. We started this week by spending a day sorting through a huge pile of donated clothing, footwear and sundry household items. We’ve also been busy replacing boxes of lightweight summer clothing, sandals and flip-flops in our basement storage area, with warmer, heavyweight sweaters, hoodies, trousers, jeans and winter boots in preparation for the inevitable chilly days ahead. Even the summer 'baby bags' we hand out to new refugee mothers have been replaced this week with bags of brand new babywear more suitable for the encroaching winter. Winters in Austria can be very, very cold, and the majority of newly-arriving refugees are from much warmer climes.

Our stock of adult winter clothing is quite limited this year, and we urgently need more children’s winter coats and jackets. Members of the Oasis team will be appealing for donations at their local evangelical churches this weekend. Please pray that people will respond quickly and generously. We know from past experience that God will provide, but it sure boosts our faith when we see the basement bulging with good quality, suitable clothing ready to meet the needs of those men, women and children who often possess nothing but the scanty clothing they’re wearing when they arrive.

Well, dear ones, we've had so many wonderful God-encounters at the Oasis this week its very hard to choose which to share with you, but we've chosen three 'stories' from among the many, trusting you will be encouraged to pray and also rejoice with us.

1. An amazing  God-encounter during 'Chai Time'

A little snapshot from our ladies' 'Chai Time' - some faces have been deliberately obscured to protect their identities.

We welcomed between 25-30 ladies and several children to the programme this week. Many of these precious ones are becoming well known to us now. They're learning to trust us. They kiss and hug us tightly. Their smiles are warm and genuine as they happily remove their scarves and relax in our company. They're starting to open up about their lives, their families, their hurts, needs, desires and beliefs. It truly is a joy and privilege to be taken into their confidence and have the opportunity to share about Jesus and His wonderful love for them. For this week's craft, we had the ladies doing oil-painting on miniature canvases. It was fascinating to see how creative they were. I've included a photo or two of their work at the end of this blog.

This week however, something happened that no team member could remember ever happening before. Two young Chinese ladies arrived at the door. It's very, very rare to see Chinese people here at the Oasis. We welcomed them in and soon discovered they spoke only Mandarin - very, very little English or German. However, one of our volunteers who works with Trans World Radio in Vienna, had lived in Taiwan some years ago and remembered sufficient Mandarin to learn just a little of their horrific story.

In brief, these terrified ladies were not actually refugees, but told us they had been trafficked to Europe around nine years ago to work in the sex trade. They'd been kept locked up in brothels and casino 'back rooms' until recently, when they finally managed to escape and find their way to the camp. They were absolutely terrified their pimp would discover their whereabouts. They told us they owed lots of money but had none. It was all so heartbreaking ..... BUT

Here's how utterly amazing our God is ..... A volunteer from Vienna who 'just happened' to be with us on Wednesday, shares a room with a lady who works for Herzwerk - a Christian organisation in Vienna which works specifically with people who've been caught up in sex trafficking and prostitution. (Look up herzwerk-wien.com if you want to learn more about this organisation) Even more amazingly, this room-mate had been a missionary in China for many years and speaks fluent mandarin! And ..... she was even available over the phone right then and there, to speak to these Chinese ladies in their own language, and provide them with all the contact information they needed to get expert help.

When one of our team offered to pray with them, it was just gut-wrenching to hear one lady reply "Oh, but I've done so many terrible things. I am a bad person. I am so dirty. Your prayers will not work for me ....." Please, please keep these two precious, broken young women in your prayers. That they will return to the Oasis so we can share more about our Saviour's passionate and redemptive love for them, and that God will provide them with somewhere safe to live while Herzwerk help them with their applications for asylum here in Austria.

2. An unplanned  Armenian 'movie night' ....

Lights dimmed for an unexpected Armenian Cinema Night

Did you know if you search on google for 'Magdalena Movie' you can actually watch the entire Jesus Film in 154 different languages via the internet? No? Well, neither did I .... but that's exactly what we discovered on Wednesday evening this week!

Usually on Wednesday nights we welcome refugees into the Oasis for an evening of worship music, followed by a gospel presentation given by one of the team. This week Jeremy had prepared a gospel talk, we set out the chairs and audio equipment, prepared drinks and snacks ready for our guests, and after praying together, some of our guys went out to invite people in ..... just as we always do!

But although we waited beyond our usual starting time, the only people who turned up were a group of eight people from two Armenian families, and one young Farsi speaker from Afghanistan. Oh well, there aren't many here, but it's not a problem we thought - but then we realized our regular Armenian interpreter hadn't arrived either (very unusual indeed for this extremely faithful and reliable lady).

As we already had the 'big screen' up and the laptop connected ready to play worship music, we decided to abandon the idea of preaching (no-one there would understand English) and attempt to access the Jesus Movie in Armenian via the laptop instead! YES - incredibly, there it was! And not a poorly edited, sub-titled version, but an excellent quality film, expertly dubbed in the language of our guests.

We dimmed the lights, handed out snacks & drinks, and silently offered praise to God that these folk who'd previously told us they were Christians (because their country is known as a Christian country rather than because they know Jesus by personal experience) were able to sit and watch as the wonderful story of Jesus, His life, his death and glorious resurrection unfolded before them. Although they've been coming to the Oasis for several weeks now, this is the first time they've actually sat and watched the Jesus film. 

You could have heard a pin drop during the film and those watching were visibly moved. Before it ended our Armenian interpreter who'd been unavoidably delayed, finally arrived.  She was in time to ask if they had any questions and interpret our answers. Before the group left we all enjoyed dancing and singing some Armenian worship songs together.

Oh, and our young Farsi-speaking visitor was able to enjoy some quality one-to-one time with Ali in one of the smaller video rooms! All in all a very different, but thoroughly enjoyable and successful Wednesday Gospel Outreach night!

3. "I've been waiting ....."

Here is Neal's story from this week:

I was one of the team leaving the Oasis with invitations for the Thursday evening Coffee Bar. Being very conscious of the previous night's 'slim' attendance' we all prayed with much more determination and faith that God would lead us to the right people - those he had prepared for us to meet. We found the street quite busy and had the opportunity to witness to a number of people of various nationalities. As we approached the main gates of the camp, I began to talk with two young men from the Gambia who spoke good English, while Ali and another guy from our team moved on a little further up the street.

I discovered later that Ali and Bob had met two Iranian couples right outside the refugee camp gates. They'd only been in the camp for a couple of days, and had not heard of the Oasis or what happened there. When Ali gave them a programme and invited them to come and watch the Jesus Film in their own language, one of the women immediately burst into tears, sobbing "I've been waiting for someone to tell me about Jesus!"  More about her later .......

Along with my new Gambian friends, I gathered several more refugees from 'the highways and byways' and escorted them back to the Oasis. They were soon happily drinking coffee and playing Jenga, chess, Connect 4 etc with our volunteers and fellow refugees. In marked contrast to the previous night's attendance, we counted almost sixty tonight - pretty much a full house!

Before long the word went out that the Farsi version of the Jesus Film was being shown upstairs, and a number went up to watch, including both of the 'new' couples from Iran. Towards the close of the movie, Ali, as he often does, called me to join him upstairs along with Bob, to answer any questions that might be raised. With Ali's help, I was able to explain the joy of knowing that our sins can be forgiven right now through Jesus, rather than waiting for 'Judgement Day' and the weighing of our 'good works against the bad.' 

At this point (following an emotional conversation with Ali in Farsi which I obviously couldn't follow) the group all knelt and Bob led them in a prayer of salvation which Ali interpreted. After I prayed a prayer of blessing over them there were many hugs and kisses all round, and Ali presented them with Farsi New Testaments to take back with them to the camp. We're hopeful that they'll join Ali's Sunday afternoon Farsi discipleship group, and that we'll get the opportunity to see more of them before they are moved on out of the refugee camp.

So, as you can see its been a very busy, different, challenging, tiring, but always totally inspiring week here at the Oasis. We're so grateful for your continued prayers for us as a couple, for the wonderful team here, but most of all for every single refugee that has come through those big glass doors this week. Every one precious to God, every one with a different back-story, every one needing so much to feel love, safe and accepted.

 

Our love as ever, to you all

Neal and Lesley

 

As promised, here are a couple of photos and even a short video from this week at the Oasis .....

Chai Time .... oil paints, brushes and miniature canvases laid out along with various snacks for the refugee ladies to enjoy

Some of the really beautiful paintings from the refugee ladies this week.

Ali & Neal enjoying a vineyard 'prayer walk', with Traiskirchen & Pfaffstatten in the distance

Coffee Bar fun and games .... this precious little Armenian boy is autistic and amost blind. Its taken some time to gain his trust, but here's a tiny moment of breakthrough!