Without doubt - our busiest week so far!

What an exciting, exhausting, exhilarating and full-on emotional time we've had at the Oasis this week! One thing's for sure, without the faithful prayer support and love of our dear friends and family back home, we'd have been feeling pretty overwhelmed by now!

 Before we share some of what's been happening this week, here's a quick update on some of the refugees we introduced you to last week.

.... Both the Iranian couples Neal prayed with after the Jesus Film last week came to church on Sunday. They stayed for the meal Ali's wife Marzia always prepares for the refugees, and for Ali's Farsi Bible Study group. Please keep these new believers in your prayers.

.... We've seen quite a bit more of the Chinese ladies from last week. Its difficult to communicate verbally with them as we have no-one on the team who speaks their language, but its amazing how much can be conveyed through smiles, hugs, hand gestures, and the 'google translate' app which is always helpful. The love of God transcends language, and we are believing God will bring hope, help and healing to their shattered lives.

.... Our relationship with the two Armenian families is developing well. They come to all the programmes, always bringing with them 'A' the little boy in the wheelchair whose back and neck were injured in a fall when he was 3 years old, and 'D' a sweet little 9 year old boy who is autistic and almost blind. Both children have become very dear to the team. They are opening up to us, allowing us to hug them, play with them and just love on them. 

Ladies clothing day

A group of ladies (faces obscured) drinking chai, chatting and being 'loved on' by the Oasis team & volunteers as they patiently wait for their 'number' to be called ......

Monday was especially busy this week as we handed out clothing, shoes, coats, prams & pushchairs, suitcases, handbags, an eclectic mix of household equipment, bedlinen, towels and sundry personal items to between 60 and 70 refugee women. 

But it's not just the giving out of 'free stuff' that's important on Mondays, this is such a great opportunity to start building relationships, to get aquainted with new arrivals at the camp and extend invitations to all the other events the Oasis runs during the week.

Most refugees arrive in Austria with very few clothes, so the clothing room programme attracts many that would probably not come to a more openly Christian event. This is our opportunity to share the love of Jesus in a very practical way. And it almost always results in barriers and defences being lowered and relational bridges being built. "And they will know you are Christians by your love."

It never ceases to amaze me how many pregnant women make the arduous journey on the refugee highway, many of them bringing their new babies into the world on the way, or shortly after their arrival here at the camp. Every couple of months the Oasis purchases new prams and pushchairs which are given away for free to new mums. New mothers are also presented with newborn boy or girl 'baby bags' containing clothes, pampers, bottles, pacifiers and various other newborn baby items.

We used some of the 'compassion fund' euros provided by our sending church (Corsham Baptists) to help buy some new pushchairs this week. So while I was helping serve the ladies upstairs in the clothing room, Neal was down in the basement assembling some of the newly-delivered stock!

Quote from Neal: "The instructions are all in German, but once you've worked out how to put one of these things together, the rest are pretty easy to do!" 

Almost all the baby sleepsuits and knitwear items we brought with us from Corsham have been given out. But new donations arrive almost daily, and we have full confidence that our Heavenly Father will continue to meet all these practical needs as we trust Him as our source.

Tuesday Team Time

The Oasis Team and volunteers at brunch (apart from dear Rick and Jonell - but we saved some for them too) I think everyone enjoyed it!

On Tuesday it was our turn to lead the team devotional time, and this week we were specifically asked to share our testimonies. Its humbling, but always such a joy and privilege to look back and recall the wonderful way God has led, protected, enabled and blessed us during our lives! There were tears (of course) but it was truly a blessing to be able to share 'our story' with the team.

We'd also volunteered to prepare this week's 'team brunch' so I made a huge pan of lentil stew, which I served with freshly baked crusty bread rolls to feed 12 rather hungry disciples! I think it went down pretty well (put it this way - I brought home a completely empty pan!)

Celebrating a special birthday!

On Wednesdays, Neal and I truly are like ships that pass in the night! Neal was up at 7am and down at the Oasis for 8am to prepare chai, coffee & snacks, and host the early morning German Language Class. He returned at midday, and I left just before 1pm for the Wednesday afternoon 'Chai Time.'

This week we celebrated the birthday of a little two-year-old boy from Eastern Europe. His mother had asked us the week before if she could celebrate his birthday at the Oasis. The team bought him a lovely big 'Black Forest Gateaux,' we lit two candles and everyone cheered as he and his mum blew them out. Miraculously, we managed to divide it into sufficient portions to serve every one of the 30+ women and children there!

One of the ladies (not sure if it was the birthday boy's mother or not) wrote us a very moving 'thank-you' card, which one of our interpreters translated for us. I took a photo of it - its posted at the end of this blog.

 During the afternoon, as the ladies concentrated on their craftwork, I got into conversation with a sweet Iraqi lady and her 14 year old daughter. They'd arrived at the camp three weeks ago and it was their first time at the Oasis. She was dressed head to toe in black. I will call her 'N.' Her husband had fled the fighting in Baghdad two years previously and is now living in Vienna, although he doesn't yet have full asylum here. N had left her two older children with her mother in Iraq, brining just her youngest daughter with her to join her husband. However, he's sharing a room with another Iraqi man in Vienna, and as a new asylum seeker she must stay at the camp. Every weekend she uses her tiny allowance to travel to Vienna so her little family can be together for just one night at a local hotel. I invited N to come back to the evening programmes this week.

So many different things happen during the women's afternoon. Picture the scene - in the corner of the room near the piano one of our volunteers has set up an electric sewing machine. Many of the refugee ladies have brought jeans and other clothing to be shortened, taken in, let out or otherwise altered. The whirr of the machine blends in with the general hubbub. Look out for a photo at the end of this blog.

In another corner of the room, an Oasis team member is sitting at a small table, totally engrossed in helping a teenage refugee with her German homework. Its so important that these dear ladies learn to speak the (very difficult) language of the country they hope to one day call home.

Wednesday night - preaching  about the resurrection of Jesus!

Stephanie is keeping the children quietly entertained with blowing bubbles as Neal brings the Word

On Wednesday evening, Neal was asked to preach. After we all prayed together, some of the team went out to 'trawl the streets' returning with an assortment of nationalities from the highways and byways. We counted two Chinese ladies; six Russian speakers, two families from Armenia; a group of Palestinian Arabic speakers from Gaza, three guys from Afghanistan, and a man from Kurdish Iraq with his two young children. As is always the case, others drifted in and out throughout the evening.

Before the preaching, we searched the internet for worship songs in the mother tongues of all our visitors. It was really special to see the faces of the Chinese ladies light up when they recognised their language on the overhead screen. The song was all about the cross and the love of Jesus for us in taking our place and paying the price for our sin. 

As the music played, my dear little autistic friend 'D' - who is I think around 9 years old and almost blind as a result of medication given to his mother at the time of his premature birth - got out of his chair and began to dance for sheer joy! It was such a moving moment, I am certain that Jesus sees both the pain and the joy in this precious little boy's heart.  I was able to catch just a little bit on video, which I've added at the bottom of this blog. 

Preaching was quite a challenge for Neal. He of course spoke in English, this was interpreted into German so our Russian interpreter (who doesn't speak English) could understand. She then interpreted from German into Russian for the Russian & Armenian group, while Stephanie resorted to 'Google Translate' to interpret the message for the Chinese ladies using her mobile phone. Another volunteer translated into Arabic (very loudly) for the Palenstinian group at the back of the room, while on the other side Ali interpreted into Farsi for the Afghan men. Oh boy - what noisy, holy chaos it was!

At the end of the evening, as we all shared coffee and cake, I learned that the young Kurdish Iraqi guy with two little children had lost his wife in the fighting, and had just arrived in the refugee camp with his little ones. They are just 6 and 7 years of age. This poor man was carrying so much grief and pain. Please pray for him and his children to find peace, and that we are able to share more with him about God's love.

The Chinese ladies left half way through - but we were able to give them both a New Testament in Mandarin, and a little tract each, which they eagerly accepted. Please keep these dear ladies in your prayers. However, their leaving released Stephanie from her Google Translate duties, so she could quickly grab a bottle of 'bubbles' to entertain the two Iraqi children who were by now getting a little distracted. Their dear father listened intently to every word of the message and spent some time chatting with the Arabic Translator afterwards. We gave him a New Testament in his own language and he promised to come back to watch the Jesus Film on Thursday evening.

As we began stacking the chairs and cleaning up at the end of the night there were still several discussions going on in different languages in every corner of the room. We praise God for good seed sown. May it fall into fertile soil, be watered from heaven and produce much fruit.

Neal's  reflections on Thursday night's Coffee Bar

"I  suppose after discharging my preaching duties yesterday, I'm feeling a little more relaxed for tonight's coffee bar, games and Jesus film night. So I sit here quietly at an empty table, willing opponents for a game of 'Connect 4' to come forward, while little 'D' is trying for all he's worth to tempt me into playing a game of 'I'm afraid of the pink plastic spider' which he is dangling behind me. On the next table, a young man who speaks very little English wants me to explain how to play chess ..... over to you, Eddie!

Across the room, five ladies sit, studiously ignoring their children, drinking coffee, chatting, laughing. All their hard defences down, carefree for an hour or two. Close to them, but slightly apart, a woman dressed completely in black sits quietly with her daughter, doodling with coloured pencils and paper. I watch Lesley approach them, sit with them, start to engage them in conversation.

Lhazi, a large exhuberant Arabic-speaking brother whose first language is Italian, spots me and cries 'Brother!' as he blunders across the room to envelop me in a bone-crushing hug. As I recover and retake my seat, I observe Jeremy, a team member, sitting across from a new believer, a game of backgammon lying discarded between them, both with Bibles open earnestly discussing some point of doctrine in a mix of Arabic and English. 

Ali, our beloved Farsi interpreter comes over to explain that a young enquiring Afghan is sitting alone in one of the video rooms watching the Jesus film. It's about to end, would I join him to answer any questions the young man might have? Others quickly join our group and soon we have six or seven, mostly believers, giving their testimonies and 'bragging on Jesus' and the new life He gives to all who put their trust in Him.

As I speak of the offer of eternal life in Jesus, a brother leans over to touch my arm. He speaks very little English.... "You speak of John 3:16?" My affirming nod brings a great beaming smile to his face. "That is the scripture I have too" he says, via Ali's interpretation.

Once again dear family and friends, love in action triumphs and our glorious Lord Jesus is exalted in all we share together in bringing in the harvest.

A rare opportunity for refugee women to 'let their hair down,'  have some fun, and hear more about Jesus' love for them!

Exhuberant dancing at the end of our Friday night ladies special!

Every four weeks, on a Friday night, the Oasis opens its doors for something a little bit special for the refugee women. We make an extra effort to dress nicely, maybe wear a little make up, and we encourage our guests to do the same. This is an opportunity to build self-esteem, to celebrate womanhood - this is our 'girl's night out!'

This Friday we had a definite autumnal theme. The tables were decorated with autumn leaves, even the tableware was carefully chosen to represent the vibrant autumn colours. One of our recent new volunteers baked some gorgeous cakes and biscuits, and we served fruit, nuts and chocolates on every table.

As the women began to arrive, Rebekah, a talented flute player and I, played some traditional Armenian, Russian, Arabic and Iranian folk tunes. Before long everyone was enjoying a hot drink and clapping along to Kalinka ... picking up the beat and urging us to play ever faster and faster!

Within half an hour every table was full and the ladies were totally engrossed in their first craft of the night - making autumn leaf decorations for the Oasis windows.

After singing three simple worship songs, Dawn, a volunteer from TWA in Vienna gave a gospel message which was interpreted into German, Russian and Farsi. Her message on faith was dramatically demonstrated by having a lady blindfolded and guided around the room by simple verbal instructions. It was an inspired idea, and I'm sure no-one in the room missed the significance of putting our trust in Jesus.

After the message many of the women had questions, and at each table volunteers and interpreters were available to answer and encourage them in their search for the truth. There was some great discussion about Jesus being God's son.

The evening ended with a wonderful, spontaneous half hour of music, singing, laughter and dancing, and even as we stacked away the chairs & tables and started sweeping the floor, there were still little groups of ladies fellowshipping together around the room.

Well folks, that just about covers our 4th week here at the Oasis. Its been a particularly long blog this time, so well done to those who have 'endured to the end!'  Next week there won't be a blog as we'll be super busy over the weekend (when I generally do my writing) preparing for visitors. So weeks 5 & 6 will be covered together, in two week's time. Hope that made sense?

Until then, we send our love to you all. Grateful for your continued prayers and support. 

Neal and Lesley

A lovely thank-you note written by one of our Eastern European refugee ladies.

One of our talented volunteers, Almendra, beavering away on her sewing machine on Wednesday afternoon

Stephanie and Rebekah cutting up the birthday cake on Wednesday afternoon

Stephanie and Jeremy entertaining the two little Iraqi children who've recently lost their Mum

Autumnal table decorations ready for the special monthly Friday Night Ladies Event

Entertaining the ladies with Armenian, Russian, Iranian and Arabic folk music as they make autumn leaf decorations for the Oasis windows

Teaching a new worship song as a 'round' - we divided the room into two halves! And it worked pretty well!

My favourite little video ever. Here's 'D' our little autistic 9-year old Armenian friend dancing his heart out to a Chinese worship song as people were gathering on Wednesday evening. Precious!