Tavid’s story serves as a powerful reminder of how the gospel can transform lives – and of how vital it is that people facing the most traumatic time of their lives are told about the living hope of Jesus Christ.
Tavid, originally from Syria has spent the last 20 years as a refugee. He has been a failed migrant, a successful voluntary migrant, a deportee and a forced migrant. He has travelled from the north of Syria to Turkey, to Greece, to Egypt, to Cuba, to Austria, to Spain, to France and to Belgium all in a desperate attempt to reach the UK.
Three times he failed and was returned to Syria. He has endured freezing river crossings in Turkey, imprisonment in several European jails and detention centres, has paid thousands of dollars to unscrupulous people traffickers and been let down by many, many people.
At long last, using a false identity, he finally made it to the UK in 2003. He was in such a desperate situation that he had no choice but to work illegally. All the time, though, the Holy Spirit was at work in Tavid. He came from an Armenian Orthodox Christian background but, while he had long forgotten that gospel upbringing, God had not forgotten him.
When Tavid spent three months in a Greek prison, it was an Armenian pastor who reached out to him. It was that pastor’s church which bought him a ticket to Spain, from where he was able to head north to Belgium. He worked with relatives there before finally persuading a rich man to help him get to England. He pretended to be the rich man’s son and got as far as Dover but was found out when the UK border authorities asked to sign his name.
He was immediately detained but was allowed to phone his parents, who lived in Reading. They arranged for a solicitor to visit Tavid, who acted as a guarantor for him. Tavid was released from detention but refused refugee status. He found himself free in the UK, but with no legal status or right to remain.
For the next six years, he worked illegally in the UK, getting whatever work he could and constantly aware he could be thrown out of the country at any time. It was during that time that he first connected with British Christians at local churches in Reading. Keen to improve his English and desperate to build some meaningful relationships, he signed up for English classes and international Bible studies.
Because of the love and compassion show to him by the local church, he gave his life to Jesus. With his new-found faith came a new understanding of his situation. As a Christian, he felt increasingly uncomfortable with his illegal status. Shortly after his baptism, he contacted the UK Border Agency and began the process of deporting himself. Eventually, back in 2011 he bought his own plane ticket back to Syria, knowing he would have to do two years of national service in his home country.
A few months later Syria exploded into the violent chaos which is still tearing apart the country today and Tavid was faced with yet more problems. He stayed in the country for as long as he could but, in 2014, under pressure from his parents in the UK, he and his brother managed to leave the country on false passports.
Incredibly, they got as far as Copenhagen in Denmark before those false passports were spotted. Tavid and his brother were first sent to a detention centre and were sent to live on the small Danish island of Stromso.
Tavid said: “Now, I’m so tired of running and I just want to settle down.”
He is learning Danish and wants to ‘do it right this time’. That means going through the official asylum-seeking process to get official residency papers before, he hopes, heading back to the UK to rejoin his parents. He has joined a small Lutheran church and is a huge encouragement to the pastor and the rest of the small congregation. Tavid knows he now has purpose thanks to those that showed him Christ’s love and compassion, and that God has given him a hope and a future.