Alex Nsengimana, a shoebox recipient and survivor of the Rwandan genocide, shared his testimony during a luncheon held at Glory Fellowship Baptist Church.
On several occasions, Nsengimana narrowly escaped becoming one of the estimated 1 million Tutsi who were killed following the death of the Rwandan president in April 1994.
His grandmother and the uncle who provided for the family were among those brutally murdered. Nsengimana, who was then 6 years old, and his two siblings witnessed the violence and fled for their lives.
Nsengimana eventually ended up in an orphanage, which is where 250 shoeboxes from Operation Christmas Child were delivered one day.
The shrieks of joy that accompanied the moment that the boxes were opened were a stark contrast to the screams of terror that filled the orphanage at night.
“We were overly excited about a pencil because we had something to call our own, and no one would take that away from us. If you messed with my box, you messed with me,” Nsengimana said.
Samaritan’s Purse, the sponsor of Operation Christmas Child, has delivered more than 100 million shoeboxes to over 130 countries since 1993.
Last year, members of 53 churches in Walker County banded together and packed 2,860 shoeboxes with items such as toys, school supplies, clothes and hygiene items.
Nsengimana said his favorite gifts were a comb, which he carried in his pocket for three years, and a candy cane, the first he had ever seen.
“I bit it with the plastic on it because I didn’t even realize it was wrapped. Every time I see a candy cane today, it reminds me of receiving my Operation Christmas Child shoebox. That candy cane was gone in seconds, but that box planted seeds of hope and love in my life that God used later,” he said.
Nsengimana became a Christian while touring the United States and Canada with the African Children’s Choir. The verse that changed his life was Jeremiah 29:11 — “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Nsengimana said he recognized that God had been with him even in his darkest moments. For more than a decade, he prayed that God would help him heal by forgiving the men who had killed his family.
In 2013, he met one of the men face-to-face in a Rwandan prison and shared the gospel with him.
On the same trip, Nsengimana returned to the orphanage where he was raised and handed out Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes in the same spot where he once stood in line to receive one.
Nsengimana, who currently lives in Boone, North Carolina, and works for Samaritan’s Purse, said sending the shoeboxes is a way for believers to participate in Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations. “I believe without a doubt that when we pack those shoeboxes with toys and school supplies that the gospel goes with those boxes and reminds kids of how much they are loved,” he said.
Lisa Allen, who is in charge of church relations for Operation Christmas Child in Walker County, said it is estimated that an average of eight individuals make professions of faith for each shoebox that is received.
Samaritan’s Purse also offers a Bible study called “The Greatest Journey” that is led by local trained teachers in areas where the program operates.
At a recent meeting of Operation Christmas Child representatives from all over the world, Allen was frequently asked to pray for more people to volunteer to teach “The Greatest Journey.”
“That’s what they asked for, more Jesus. Not more toys but more Jesus,” Allen said.