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How shoebox inspired boy in Rwanda orphanage to provide hope for others each Christmas

Alex Nsengimana says shoebox carries powerful message to children
Posted at 11:46 AM, Apr 30, 2024

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Alex Nsengimana was born in Rwanda. Genocide swept through his country. He lost his family and, after fleeing gunmen, he ended up in an orphanage.

"When I was 7 years old, I was living in an orphanage when I got to receive an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift," Nsengimana said.

He said that the shoebox gave him hope.

"In that orphanage, I lost all hope and 250 of us — all of us — received the shoeboxes," Nsengimana recalled. "It was such an exciting day when all of us got to open our presents. I remember seeing school supplies, hygiene items and toys — all these fun items that reminded me to be a boy again."

Alex Nsengimana as a child living in Rwanda orphanage
Alex Nsengimana lost his family and spent time in an orphanage when he was a child living in Rwanda. He says the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes provided him with hope.

The shoeboxes are part of Operation Christmas Child. Nsengimana said getting a shoebox let him know someone cares. He said it also grew his faith in God.

"During the time we were running, God was doing those miracles to protect us. In a matter of three months during that genocide ... a million people were killed and over 400,000 orphans were left in the country."

Years later he joined a children's choir and ended up performing in the U.S.

"I met a family who later on adopted me into their family and I grew up in Minnesota," Nsengimana said. "While I was in Minnesota, God has (a) sense of humor. I went to the coldest part of the country."

He got involved with Operation Chrismas Child, packing shoeboxes then realizing years earlier he was the recipient of a shoebox.

"When I was in high school, the student council wanted to figure out how to get involved. And they said, 'Let's do Operation Christmas Child.' And I asked them, 'What is Operation Christmas Child?'" Nsengimana recalled. "And they showed me the logo and I remember that airplane really well, the logo. And I remember, it took me back to when I received that shoebox gift, and it took me back to when I got my favorite item, which was a hair comb — a hair comb that I kept for three years."

Operation Christmas Child shoebox logo
The familiar Operation Christmas Child shoebox logo served as a reminder to Alex Nsengimana about the gift he received when he was young.

Nsengimana said the shoebox shows that the children are cared for.

"This is a presentation of God's love in a very tangible way, and that shoebox carries that powerful message of Christ. (It communicates) that you matter, that you are loved."