Copyright © 2012 StarNewsOnline.com
Reprinted with permission
Alex Nsengimana lost the only two people he had left in the world during the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
"The two people who were very important in my life and who took care of me from birth were taken away from me," Nsengimana said of his uncle and grandmother. "They were killed in front of me."
Nsengimana, whose mother died several years before the massacre, was 7 years old, lost and alone. By the grace of God, Nsengimana said, he escaped death in a conflict that resulted in the slaying of hundreds of thousands of people, with some estimates putting the number killed at 1 million.
But in 1995, Nsengimana found a bright spot during a dark time. He was living in a Rwandan orphanage with 250 children when Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes arrived.
"We were told to go and line up in the yard and get ready to receive a gift that came from America," he said during a phone interview. "In my box there was school supplies, toiletries and little toys like soccer balls and little cars."
Two of the items stand out in Nsengimana's memory – a folding comb he kept for years afterward and a candy cane. The children had never seen candy canes before and were pleasantly surprised at the sweet taste when they popped them into their mouths.
"The boxes kind of communicated for us that we were not forgotten, and we were loved," he said. "I found hope."
Nsengimana, now 24 and studying pastoral leadership and biblical languages at Crossroads College in Rochester, Minn., will share how the Operation Christmas Child shoe box changed his life at local OCC kickoff celebrations. The events take place at 5 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 15) at Southport Baptist Church in Southport, and 6 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 16) at First Baptist Church in Wallace.
"It changes lives," Nsegimana said of the shoeboxes. "Some of the kids are going through rough times and that box may be just the thing that would keep them going at least one more mile."
Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan's Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization that provides spiritual and physical aid to people around the world. Churches, schools, businesses and other organizations in the area can get involved with the shoebox program by contacting Becky Cook, a volunteer who coordinates OCC efforts in New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender, Duplin and Columbus counties, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 742-2508.
Individuals can also put together shoeboxes on their own with packing instructions available at the presentations Saturday and Sunday and at www.SamaritansPurse.org. Cook said Nov. 12-19 is OCC's national shoebox collection week, with the largest collection center in Wilmington at Southside Baptist Church, 3320 South College Road.
Last year, the ministry collected 27,000 shoeboxes from the five-county area at Southside Baptist and wants to reach the 30,000 mark this year, Cook said, with the help of Nsengimana's presentation.
"We work on this end of the box packing them and shipping them, and it's always fun to actually get to meet someone who received one of the gifts and hear how it changed their lives," Cook said. "It makes it worth all the effort that we do to get all the boxes shipped to see how it affects children around the world."
Cece Nunn: 343-2310