'Operation Christmas Child'




November 20, 2010



An orphan from the Rwanda genocide tells how an Operation Christmas Child shoe box changed his life, and how it is bringing healing to children in his native country


In a crowded orphanage in Kigali, Rwanda, nightmares of murder and destruction filled the minds of hundreds of children. They had been running for their lives during the genocide of the Tutsi people, and were now alone. This was their only place of refuge and comfort.

Seven-year-old Alex Nsengimana was one of the children at the Gisimba Memorial Center Orphanage in 1995, feeling tormented by the memories of his grandmother and uncle’s murder. 

“It all began when our neighbors came to us on the morning of April 6, 1994 and told us to not go anywhere,” Alex said. “That evening, the militia came to our house and asked us to come outside and lie down. We did it out of fear. Then they told us to go back inside the house. Our grandmother stayed outside and they killed her. They took all the food we had. Then, before they left, they raised machetes against my sister, but they spared her life.”

When their uncle was killed a week later. Alex, his brother Fils Mwizera, and his sister Lilian Uwingabire, left home. For weeks they ran through the hills and hid as best they could.

God protected them through many dangers. Once, a man raised his gun up to kill them, but the bullets fell out. Another time, Alex slipped and fell to the ground as he was being shot at. The bullet just grazed the top of his head. 

Alex, Fils, and Lilian eventually made their way to the orphanage. They lived with about 200 other children at the home that was meant to hold only 60. In just 100 days, 800,000 Rwandans had been killed, and thousands of children were left without a family to return to.

“Life there was rough,” Alex remembered. 

Then a spark of joy and love came to the orphanage. Samaritan’s Purse delivered gift-filled shoe boxes. 

“It was such a joyful day,” Alex said. “It was neat because it made us think there was someone out there caring for us, who took the time to put the boxes together. It really made us happy, and it made us not dwell on the negatives of the genocide.”

When Alex opened his box he saw toys, school supplies, and toiletries, but there was one thing he had never seen before in his life—a candy cane. 

“It looked like it tasted good, so I gave it a try to figure out what it was,” Alex said. “It was the coolest thing.”

About two years later, the African Children’s Choir came to the orphanage and chose Alex, Fils, and a dozen other children to travel with them to the United States. While they trained for their tour, Alex heard the Gospel.

“I came to know the Lord in Uganda at the choir training,” he said. “I was depressed and asking God why the genocide happened, and I felt lost. I started to read the Bible while I was learning English. Jeremiah 11 captured my heart, and I thought, ‘There has to be a reason why I am alive today. My goal and purpose is to find out why I am alive.’ From that moment on, I knew there was going to be an answer.” 

While Alex and Fils traveled across the U.S. with the choir, they made a special connection with one particular host family—Robb and Ellen Wunderlich. Because of Robb and Ellen’s compassion, Alex and Fils were able to move to the U.S.

“Getting a visa in a week after September 11 was impossible, but it happened,” Alex said. “God’s plan was in all of this. We could not have done it on our own.”

Ellen and Robb helped raise enough money for Alex and Fils’ school tuition and board so they could stay in America. 

“It seemed like they’ve always just been meant to be a part of the family,” Ellen said. “We love them like our biological kids.”

As Alex attended Winona Cotter High School, he began packing shoe boxes and encouraging his classmates to join him. Now 22, Alex continues to pack gifts for Operation Christmas Child as he attends Crossroads College in Rochester, Minnesota, where he is studying to become a pastor. 

He has since found the reason why God did so many miracles in his life and kept him alive during the genocide.

“My dream is to start a ministry in Rwanda, and to travel around teaching the Gospel,” he said. “I want to help the people of Rwanda find freedom, forgiveness, and healing, because when I gave my life to Christ I came to the point where I couldn’t be angry at the people who committed the acts anymore.” 

Alex went back to Rwanda last summer for the first time in five years. He visited the orphanage, and saw that there are still a lot of people going through the hurt of the genocide.

“I want to share with the people who led the massacre, and killed my family, what the Lord has done in my life, and that I have forgiven them and they can have peace in the Gospel message,” he said.

Alex sees packing shoe boxes through Operation Christmas Child as a simple way to spread the Gospel all over the world. For the past few months, he has been preparing for a packing party at Crossroads by putting up posters and signs, sharing his testimony, and organizing the event. 

If students say they can’t come due to homework or exams, he encourages them to pack a shoe box at home with their families.

“It is always fun for me to encourage people and tell people my story because I know how much a difference the boxes make in kids’ lives,” Alex said.

Personally, Alex is hoping to pack 20 shoe boxes this year to bring smiles to children’s faces. 

“Looking back to how excited I was and how receiving the box gave me something to call my own and gave me comfort—that is the reason I would encourage people to pack a shoe box,” he said. “If people are looking for a way to make a difference, this is one way. These kids are going through so many things and rough times. It is the least we can do, and it will put smiles on their faces. 

“I would also encourage everyone to think about it every Christmas and every year. You might not see the outcome right away, but God is working behind the scenes. When we give our time and work, and open our arms to be used by God, He will use it in different ways to change lives.”




Shoeboxes for Samaritans Purse Christmas Shoebox Appeal were packed into cartons in our Upper Room in 2009, for transport to needy children at Christmas.  We packed last November at Hoyland Methodist Church.  Now is a good time to start collecting items ready for next Christmas, as you can often find special offers in the shops! Please look out for more details of arrangements for 2014 in October, at www.samaritanspurse.uk.com.
Items needed in your shoebox (all gifts should be new) -
Toys: Bear, soft toy, tennis ball, finger puppet, jigsaw, yo-yo, building blocks, small musical instrument. 
 For boys - trucks and cars. For girls - dolls, clip-on earrings etc.
Educational supplies: Felt pens, pens, pencils, pencil sharpener, eraser, colouring book, notepad, picture or puzzle book, chalk, pencil case, stickers, etc.
Hygiene items: Toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, comb, hair clips, bar of soap, flannel, etc.
Other items: Sweets (sell-by date to be at least March of next year), gloves, scarf, sunglasses, cap, hat, bangles, necklaces, etc.
Items NOT to be included:
No food, especially chocolate. Only exception, non-chocolate sweets are allowed.
No medicine or vitamins of any kind.
No war-related items - toy guns, soldiers or knives of any kind.
No clothing other that that listed above.
No fragile items such as glass containers or mirrors.
No liquids including blow bubbles, shampoo, bubble bath, toiletry sets or aerosols.
No dangerous items, sharp objects, scissors or razors.
No novels
Nothing of a political nature.
No hand-knitted stuffed toys without a CE mark.
Due to import regulations, all gifts should be new and comply with the conditions listed above.
Please include £2.50 to cover transport costs.