Time for another train date

Nathanael and I had so much fun on our accidental train date to the Czech Republic in June that we decided to have an intentional afternoon train date.  We road four trains to various parts of the city and stopped for snacks as well.

Time for cute kid pictures

This blog has become a strange mixture of family photos, spiritual musings, and stories from our life in Vienna.  Given the last four posts, I think it's time for some light-hearted kid photos.  My only problem is narrowing down which ones to include.  I haven't posted photos of my littles since mid August before we went on vacation!
Fun with friends from Kindergarten
We switched Eva to her "big girl" bed after vacation, and that meant putting the bunk beds together!
Nathanael showing off his tattoo
Snack time in the park!
Nathanael began receiving an allowance, and he was so proud of his first two purchases.
While I was doing dishes one evening, I stopped and caught this treasure of a photo.  Dad is the best.  He helps diaper Eva's doll while spelling words for Nathanael to write.  I love these three!
Our family loves Autumn in Vienna.  We especially love evening walks as a family.  They've taken on different moods along with the different ages of our kids.  It seems Eva has entered a new stage now of being okay riding in the stroller (as long as we stop at a park once along the way), and since Nathanael just walks everywhere, it is working well right now!
We often walk to the Wienderberg, or as we named it when we first moved here, the "Far away park."
This girl LOVES to slide!

Headed to Holland

Our last family was a large group of seven:  Young parents, Ahmet and Riva, with a five-month-old son, Hamudi, and two-year-old daughter, Canan.  The mom's sister, Rama.  The dad's brother and his pregnant wife, Samer and Omay.
From what we could piece together in their broken Turkish, two of them had been in Istanbul for quite some time, very likely working to save money for the trip to Europe, and all of them had been traveling from Turkey for about a month.  They were incredibly grateful for showers and beds and blankets, for privacy.  For undergarments and socks.  For lotion and soap and deodorant and razors.  Of course, for food as well.

The three ladies and I sat around the table late at night sharing social media profiles, smiling at photos, and just connecting as women.  When Gregory went to bed, they took off their scarves and relaxed.  One of the women showed me a picture of her in Syria and pointed out her nice long coat in the photo; I think she was a bit embarrassed about the shorter coat she was wearing out of necessity (a donation from the train station).

I spent about an hour with them back at the train station the next morning, helping them get medical care for the little ones.  Once again, the clinic was impressive.  I was thankful.
I got to stay with little Hamudi while his sister and parents were in the clinic.
They were all headed to Holland, they thought.  From what I can see on Facebook, I think they may still be in Germany.  I can't help but wonder how their story has continued to unfold.  And I wonder if they have continued reading the books we gave them...  They are in our thoughts and prayers.

More Refugees Welcome

The week before last we hosted two more families fleeing their homes and lives in Syria.  The first family was small, and their story was slightly different than the others we have encountered.
The father, Semih, had been living in Austria as an asylum seeker for three months already, having fled Syria with his brother.  His wife, Bayan (23!) made the journey from Turkey alone with her 1.5-year-old son, Hamudi, and ten-year-old nephew, Haman!  I cannot fathom what stories she must have from the last few weeks...
They had just been reunited that afternoon, and although their son was ill, they were clearly happy to be together and safe.  We hosted them on a Friday night, so our families sat down for a Saturday morning breakfast together.
At breakfast after praying, they asked about our faith, and we shared what little we were able to communicate in words.  (Semih already knew a tiny bit of German from living in Austria for three months.)  We were thankfully able to get Hamudi some medical attention back at the train station.  The medical clinic there had doctors available, and they gave them some medication to take on their journey.

I wished they were staying in Austria, but they had decided that night to continue on to Germany.  Another family.  Another opportunity to share the love of Jesus in actions and words.  Another difficult goodbye.


Blessed to be a Blessing

As I sit down to write this morning, I am overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility to tell this story well.  Running errands this morning after dropping off my children at Kindergarten, I couldn't stop thinking and praying about this family.  I wondered if Rasha, the two-year-old girl who drew our attention at the train station on Sunday night, slept any last night at the station.  Has her fever subsided?  Did her four-months-pregnant mother eat well last night?  Did her uncle get ahold of his wife and six children who are still in Turkey?  How is her aunt doing, not knowing when she'll be able to join her husband in Germany?  As I entered our elevator, I thought about those who have ridden the elevator with us in the last week, their faces, their stories, their needs.  And I cried, again.


We attempted to find a family to host on Saturday night, but sufficient housing options had been created for refugees to stay overnight before continuing on by train the next morning.  We continued to prepare our home for guests, not knowing if the window had closed for us to host any more, but praying for more opportunities to meet needs and show love.  On Sunday afternoon, we read that Germany would be closing its border to refugees in the evening between Salzburg and Munich (for those traveling without the proper visas).  We received a call from the non-profit at our main train station asking if we could still host that night.  After putting our children to bed, I took some donations to the station and checked in to gather a family.

We said we could take five.  A family was found.  "Are six okay?  One is a child."  We agreed.  They hesitated and spoke with the translator with great concern.  The translator informed me that they had lost tens of thousands of Euro to smugglers along the way; they were rightfully concerned.  The translator assured them of our desire to help without any cost to them; they were stunned and relieved.  A little bit of confusion ensued, and we had a family of six adults and one child to take home.  They said they were okay with one sleeping on the floor, so we grabbed a tram home.  One man, Nazim, spoke some English.  He asked on the tram if the train had no driver; I pointed out the window at the front behind which the tram driver sat.  He explained to the others, and they all were full of wonder on their first tram ride.

At our home, they took turns showering.  I was able to help Dilan bathe her two-year-old, Rasha.  I wondered if it was the first time in a month...Rasha was enthralled with our children's bath toys and giggled through half of the bath.  As each person came out of the bathroom, they smiled.  They were clean and wore clean clothes given to them at the station.  I think they must have felt as if they'd gained back a piece of honor, to show outwardly that they still matter.  They are human.  They are valued.  It was humbling to watch the transformation and honoring to be able to be a part of it.


The men had tea and snacks and smoked and talked on the balcony while the women prepared for bed, and we had the honor of playing with Rasha.  They openly offered small pieces of their story throughout the evening and morning.  We learned about their spouses and children in other countries.  They shared that they had been on the road from Turkey now for 25 days.  A brother-in-law had been killed by Assad, leaving a wife and two young children.  They showed us a picture of the fatherless children.  Nazim had served in the military in Syria, but he left to fight against Assad until realizing he needed to take his family and flee.

The night was quiet.  They slept "deeply" and "peacefully". We were all thankful.


In the morning, we made multiple pots of Turkish tea and offered them a breakfast familiar to their culture.  Gregory ate with the men and had a mini Arabic lesson.  We pulled out an atlas and shared home towns with each other.  They gifted us with a laminated card with a chapter from the Koran, and we spoke with each other about our faiths.  They asked to see a New Testament, asked if we had one in Arabic.  We shared some online resources, and they sat around the table listening to some verses from the Book of John in Arabic.


We gave them what we could -- access to internet for an evening and morning, a backpack, children's medicine, a small doll and stuffed animal for Rasha, a coloring book and colors, snacks to to take along, a bib, a cell phone charger, use of soaps and combs and razors, food and clothing...  At the train station, we bought them a SIM Card and minutes for their phone, to be able to be in touch with their family in Turkey and Germany (a huge need for many of the refugees here).  We exchanged contact information and pictures taken and told them we would be praying for them.  Goodbyes were again difficult.  Rasha didn't want us to leave.  Nor did we.

Later that afternoon, Gregory stopped by the train station to see if they were still there, bringing them another gift, serving them strudel, and spending an hour being together.  They were confused, receiving conflicting information from people and not sure what was going on.  He helped translate some articles for them to know the current news and tried to find another place for them to stay that night, but they wanted to stay at the train station.  We think they were hopeful the situation would change, and they didn't want to miss an opportunity.  When Gregory had to leave, Rasha cried.  Gregory swallowed down his own tears, and Nazim walked him out of the station.

Last night, as Gregory and I debriefed the experience, he shared a few potent thoughts and feelings with me.  We spoke about how blessed we felt in attempting to bless others.  We spoke about the joy (and humorous blunders) of attempting to show hospitality to these people in a way that conforms to their culture.  We spoke about how blessed we are to have so much.  We couldn't stop thinking of two-year-old Rasha sitting on the floor in the train station.  We feel such a deep sense of gratitude to God that their story hasn't been our story thus far.  We haven't known war and suffering like this.  Our kids haven't had to live through it, other than now being a part of blessing those who have.


Despite the excited and loud greetings he received from our children when returning back home from the station this evening, Gregory quietly said something that really touched me, something that I too had felt while cleaning and doing laundry all day.  "Our house feels empty."  These dear people who filled our home with needs and life and blessing are greatly missed.  Bring them hope, Jesus.  And bring us more people to love.


Read our story. Enter into yours.

Many have been asking about our experience hosting Syrian refugees, how it came about, and how you can be involved.  This post is intended to provide information and encourage you to action.  If you are reading this, I truly believe God has a role for you in giving of yourself sacrificially to love these people.  Ask Him what it is.  Gather information.  And act boldly and in faith that our God will use your sacrifices to bring love and hope to these people who have lost everything.  Ultimately, my heart's longing is that they know Christ and have eternal life in Him.  I trust that the small part we are able to play here in Vienna is a part of their story of Hope, that the Spirit is using our interactions to draw them to God.  Psalm 23 keeps running through my head, both for myself and my family and for those we host.  May the Lord be their Shepherd...their everything.  Only through Jesus.

Pieces of our Story

This was not a spur of the moment thing, choosing to take in refugees.  Gregory and I have been seriously considering and praying about offering our guest room via http://www.fluechtlinge-willkommen.at/ as a mid-term home for a woman and child.  On Sunday, we returned from an eleven day holiday in Turkey, and this question of what can we do was screaming at us from all sides.  I did a bit of research and lots of reading on Monday about the site above, http://www.refugees-welcome.net/ in English, as I remembered seeing it on Facebook a few weeks back.  After searching online for more information about hosting refugees for short and mid-term needs, I connected via Facebook with this group, helping refugees in Vienna who are changing trains either for a view minutes or overnight.  This connected me with this non-profit organization, working at the main train station that is a 15-20 minute walk from our home.  I read about urgent needs for supplies and medicine, food and clothing, etc.  I knew God wanted us to do something, and so I kept updated on the needs and kept asking, "What should we do, Lord?"

Last night, after climbing in bed around 11pm, I checked the Facebook page and saw an urgent request for blankets and portable beds for a large group of refugees who had just arrived and were cold and needed sleep.  As I read through comments, I saw other people offering their homes and asking what to do.  The organization couldn't handle the logistics of arranging private housing, but I was drawn to one lady's post.  She wrote how her husband simply drove to the station, spoke with the volunteers to let them know he could take a family home with him right then and there, and as she wrote, two women, two children, and a grandpa were sleeping in their home.  She posted that the scene at Hauptbahnhof was truly alarming.  The people were cold and exhausted and trying to sleep on the cold floors wherever they could find space.  I knew this was the time to act.

A safe room for families to sleep
The volunteer center

The volunteers at the station last night at 12:30am were amazing.  They were grateful and helpful and caring.  I admire them hugely.  They said the need is great every night.  No question.  At that time of night, most of the families were bigger than five people (what we had determined to be our max this time), and they weren't sure they'd find any for us to house this time, but after a five minute wait, they did.  A volunteer guided me through the crowd of dirty, tired humanity, weaving between sleeping families and lines of men waiting for the toilets.  On one side of the station corridor were volunteers handing out warm food; another section housed donations of supplies and clothes.  I was introduced to a young Syrian university student who spoke beautiful English (but no German!) and translated for us.  She introduced us -- a husband and wife and their nephew, answered questions, and communicated when they'd need to be back.  She mentioned that the husband spoke a bit of English, and I mentioned that I speak Turkish if that's helpful. The wife's eyes lit up, and she said in Turkish that she lived in Turkey for a few years and speaks a little.  What an amazing God-send.  We were able to communicate.

On the walk home, it started to rain.  They were cold, wearing no socks and flip-flops, yet smiling and pointing and talking excitedly about this different place.  They were beautiful and amazingly hopeful and happy, despite their exhaustion and recent experiences.  Piecing together their story, they fled their home (in a large city in west-central Syria) by car, crossed into Turkey and then took a boat from there to Greece.  That experience sounded quite traumatic, too many people, including children, crammed onto a small boat...  We didn't ask too much more, and they understandably stopped sharing about the journey at that point.  They arrived yesterday evening from Hungary with only the light summer clothes on their bodies.  Tired.  Cold.  Hungry.  Dirty.  But grateful to have made it this far.  They had already received food and some warmer clothing at the station.


Our home was likely their first night in a bed since they left their own homes.  We were able to feed them a small breakfast this morning and send them off with socks and a backpack and a couple fresh headscarves.  It was so little, but I know each little bit helps.  On the trip back to the train station, the wife asked me about the cross-walk signs.  They were trying to take it all in.  Everything is different.  We had no Arabic Bibles to give, but we gave them our contact information and a Turkish New Testament and trust that God will lead them onward in this journey to Him.


Embrace your role

As I said goodbye at the train station this morning, the wife and I embraced, and we wished each other well with tears in our eyes.  We are praying about when to do this again.  It will not be the last.  The need is overwhelmingly huge.  We each have a part to play.  Now you have read our story.  Ask God what yours may be, and then walk forward in obedience.  God will care for you and provide for you as you lay down your life for those in need.

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

A sidenote:  If you have questions about hosting and interacting with Muslims in your home and are interested in special considerations to make, please email me.  I'd be happy to give some tips and insight from our experience and our few years in Turkey.


GEM Annual Conference 2015

We returned on Saturday from our time in Germany for GEM's Annual Conference.  Two long days of traveling, four+ long days of sessions and seminars and meetings over meals with two young kids.  Although it was indeed quite tiring, we also were pleasantly surprised by how much better both kids did this year.  I don't know if it's that they're growing up or that we've been at that same location three years in a row now.  Or maybe it was having another young family there with us (10-year-old Jonathan is his hero) that helped Nathanael have a better experience.  Whatever the cause, we were encouraged by the improvements in our family's experience.  Work-wise, we had lots of important discussions and meetings and gained a greater appreciation for our organization's history and current trajectory.  It was also unique to worship through song in English and with a band!  We greatly enjoyed that.  A team from a church in California came to serve all of us in various ways, including leading us in musical worship and being the hands of feet of an amazing Kids' Program.  Wow, what a special ministry!  We are grateful!

Of course, all my photos are of the kids.  I'm also sharing a few photos here taken by the Kids' Program.

Traveling to the hotel...a taxi, then an airplane, then a 3.5 hour busride.  Eva finally gave in and slept a bit.
Two tired Kings
Eva smiling for her teacher on the last night
Nathanael engaged in Carnival Night fun