Christian charity, Samaritan’s Purse, shares how its Operation Christmas Child initiatives are touching lives, and calls on British believers to support its effort to send gifts to children in Rwanda
As Alex knelt on the cool, tiled floor of Kigali Prison, he faced the moment of truth. Could he offer forgiveness to the man who killed close members of his family during the 1994 Rwandan genocide?
As 24-year-old Alex Nsengimana prepared to meet the man who had taken the life of those so precious to him, his thoughts returned to the nightmare he’d faced 19 years ago. “Images from that terrible time continued to crash through my consciousness. Angry men ordering my grandmother outside, raising a nail-studded club as they began beating her to death.
“My uncle, hiding under the bed, finally discovered by a mob of militia. His pleading eyes looking into the faces of his killers, asking them to shoot him quickly. The stick they used to beat him until, finally, he died.”
However, Alex’s journey to forgive this man was sparked by a simple shoebox he had received as a boy through Operation Christmas Child (OCC), a campaign run by the charity, Samaritan’s Purse, in the UK.
One day, in 1995, all of the kids at Alex’s orphanage were asked to line up outside. Excitement buzzed like electricity in the air, as they were each handed a colourfully wrapped shoebox.
“Bursting with curiosity, we ripped open the boxes to find toys, school supplies, hygiene items – things we could hardly dream of owning were ours! These gift-filled shoeboxes reminded us that someone cared for us. With that tangible reminder, a small flame of hope was ignited in my heart.
“Over the years I often struggled to understand why my life was spared, when nearly a million other lives were not. I never knew my father, and my mother had died of AIDS before the genocide began, leaving my grandmother and uncle as my main carers. After they were killed, my brother and I ended up in the orphanage.
“Nights at the orphanage were filled with the cries of children – hundreds of them, all lost and alone. Children like me, who had witnessed terrible things happening to their family and friends. After the genocide, I almost began to believe that God did not exist. I wondered, ‘If there’s a God who cares for His people, why would He let this happen?’”
But one day, as Alex read Jeremiah 29:11 in the Bible, he began to understand that God had a plan for his life. “I put my trust in Him, and have watched in awe as His plan has been carried out over the years.”
In 2003, Alex was adopted by a family from Minnesota. He left Rwanda, and moved to the US to be with his new family.
Alex’s healing process came full circle, when he returned to Rwanda last year to deliver shoebox gifts through Operation Christmas Child. While there, he met the man who had caused such pain to him and his family.
“For years, I had prayed and dreamt that God would allow me to offer forgiveness, in person, to the men who killed my uncle and grandmother during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Finally, I was face-to-face with one of them, speaking the words in person. I began to feel as though I could see the destination at the end of the road.
“Saying the words ‘I forgive you’ to his face brought to the surface many painful memories. But I have come to believe that if God is able to forgive me of my sins, I can forgive someone who has wronged me. As painful as it was, I am now left with the peace that only Christ can provide, and I will spend my life sharing with others how they can receive His peace and forgiveness.”
Over the past 23 years, through the global efforts of Operation Christmas Child, 100 million gift-filled shoeboxes have been delivered to needy children, like Alex, in 156 countries around the world.
Samaritan’s Purse is calling on churches, schools, businesses and individuals across the UK to help bring joy to another one million children through Operation Christmas Child this year. To mark the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in 2014, for the first time a container filled with gift-filled shoeboxes from donors in the UK will be sent to Rwanda.
To make it easier for organisers to get hold of shoeboxes, Operation Christmas Child can now provide decorative ‘GO’ boxes, available flat-packed in cases of 100. These boxes can not only be used by individuals finding it difficult to find shoeboxes, but they can also be shared with their friends, families and work colleagues – anyone who has a heart for children!
To see Alex’s powerful story, and to find out how you can be part of this year’s Operation Christmas Child campaign, go to: www.operationchristmaschild.org.uk/faith.