Rwandan Genocide Survivor finds love, forgiveness in a Christmas gift box

Operation Christmas Child impacted 7-year-old for life’s mission

Alex Nsengimana was 6 years old when he found himself struggling to stay alive after witnessing his grandmother and uncle being killed. Nsengimana, a Rwandan genocide survivor, was being raised by his grandmother when the government-incited war between tribes took place.

“For three months, people would run from place to place and a million people lost their lives,” Nsengimana said. “Over 400,000 orphans were left in the country, including me.”

Nsengimana, 31, was recently on the Kilgore College campus to speak about how, as a young child in an orphanage, he received a gift-filled shoebox from the Samaritans Purse organization that helped restore his faith in God after questioning “where God was, and why he had abandoned me.”

“Some organizations started coming to the country—Samaritan’s Purse was one of those. In 1993, they had taken on a project called Operation Christmas Child. They came to my orphanage in 1995,” Nsengimana said. “People would pack shoeboxes and put in school supplies, hygiene items and toys. Then, these would be sent to more than 160 countries, and kids around the world would receive shoeboxes – often as one of the very first gifts in their lives.”

After witnessing the horrors of war and the tragedy of losing his family, 7-year-old Nsengimana found comfort in knowing God and the world had not abandoned him. Take a look at what the best gift is, click this link.

“[When we received the shoebox], we were screaming—not because we were being chased, but because we couldn’t contain the joy of receiving a gift for the very first time in our lives. That was a very special day,” he said.

He also elaborated on how the shoebox he received helped him and other children deal with post-traumatic consequences of the war.

“While staying at the orphanage, I would have nightmares about the war and everything that happened during then,” Nsengimana said.  “Then I received this shoebox. I remember there were coloring books and oval-shaped watercolors. Feeling the texture—the smell of the items—created new memories in our minds, and so at night we wouldn’t dream about what happened in the war. We were dreaming of those new memories that were planted in our lives through that shoebox.”

Nsengimana said the realization that God had a plan for him kept him going. He then devoted his life to finding his purpose in order to follow it. Through the organization’s “random, selfless act of kindness,” he found it.

After being adopted by a family from Minnesota when Nsengimana was 15 years old, he moved to the U.S. and started high school. Then, he heard about Operation Christmas Child—the same ministry that made an impact in his life and “introduced him to the love of Jesus Christ.”

“I started packing shoeboxes over the years in high school and college. In 2013 I actually graduated college and moved to (Boone), North Carolina to do an internship with Operation Christmas Child,” he said.

As a result of his life-changing experience after receiving the shoebox, Nsengimana made the decision to travel and share his testimony hoping that communities, schools and churches could hear the impact that Operation Christmas Child had on him.

“This way, more shoeboxes can be packed. That will equal to one more child who is going to be reminded of God’s love—who is going to be, probably, just like me when I was a little boy and received my shoebox.”

That same year, Nsengimana visited his country to deliver boxes for Operation Christmas Child. While there, he visited the prison where the man who killed his uncle was being held. He said it was “the hardest, yet most freeing day of my life.”

“I was able to find myself sitting in front of this man and asked him why he did it. He told me he didn’t remember all the things he did and that he was just following orders from the government,” Nsengimana said. “Radios, newspapers, so many avenues of voices were telling people they needed to go kill a Tutsi — my tribe. So people who were brainwashed followed those orders. But I told him I wasn’t there to accuse him, but to share what God had done in my life.”

Nsengimana believes how people react to tragedies can make a difference, for better or for worse. Thus, he has dedicated his life to sharing the love and grace of God in whichever way he can.

“There’s no explanation of why I’m here today other than God’s protection. I want to live my life and be faithful—to be a voice and help those who feel hopeless,” he said. “That is my life purpose: to help others not to give up hope and love, because the way we respond will go a long way, either by helping, by fueling the fire, or preventing it from happening.”

Nsengimana encourages everyone to join Operation Christmas Child. This year, the organization is hoping to pack 9.1 million shoeboxes in the United States. Information on how to pack boxes, either physically or online, can be found at Since its start in 1993, OCC has sent 168 million shoeboxes around the world.

“People can get involved in sharing love. One way to do that is by joining and supporting those ministries which are doing something,” he said. “They can get involved by packing shoeboxes that are going to kids who may have, or are currently going through, what I did. By reminding them that there is love in Jesus, they can show that there is hope.”


by Adriana Cisneros Emerson