Tavid knows all about being a refugee. In the last 20 years, the Syrian 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, Greece, Egypt, Cuba, Austria Spain, France, and Belgium all in a desperate attempt to reach the UK.
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. Three times he failed and was returned to Syria.
At long last – and using a false identity – he finally made it to the UK in 2003. But he then had no choice other than 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 upbringing, God had not let him go.
An Armenian pastor helped him during the three months he spent in a Greek jail. 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 across the channel to England.
He pretended to be the rich man’s son and got as far as Dover – but was found out when he was asked to sign his name by the UK border authorities. He was immediately detained but 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 – so 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, constantly aware he could be thrown out at any time. It was during that time that he first connected with British Christians through local churches in Reading.
Keen to improve his English and desperate for meaningful relationships, he signed up for English classes and international Bible studies.
Through the loving witness of those Christians, Tavid turned to Christ and found in Jesus both saviour and Lord.
But that gave him a new problem. 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. A few months later, Syria exploded into the violence which is still tearing apart the country today.
Tavid stayed 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. They were first sent to a detention centre and now live on the small Danish island of Stromso — a long way from both Syria and from the UK.
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 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.
What’s next for Tavid? Only God knows. But for now he’s just knuckling down and trying to rebuild his life.
And now that God has met him in his son, Jesus Christ, that new life has so much more meaning.
- For Tavid to stay strong in his new faith and trust his future to Jesus Christ.
- For local churches across the UK to be welcoming to refugees and to think about best how to help them.
- For 2:19 to be a blessing to many churches as they share their wisdom about teaching English.