Friday, May 27, 2022 |
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LIHUE — Alex Nsengimana was a small boy, living in an orphanage in Rwanda in 1995, and he had no hope.
He never knew his father and his mother had died of AIDS when he was four years old. He saw his grandmother and his uncle killed.
He and his brother and sister fled for their lives when the country was gripped in violence following the death of its president, Juvenal Habyarimana, after his plane was shot down on April 6, 1994. In the following three months, there was genocide. A million people were killed as the Hutu majority attacked the Tutsi.
Somehow, Alex avoided the clubs, bullets and bombs. But the nightmares of what he saw, what he endured, haunted him days, especially nights, at the orphanage in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
Then, hope found him.
It was a day when he and the other 250 children were told to line up to receive gifts from America, a place that, to a small boy, seemed a billion miles away, a place where he couldn’t believe anyone cared about him.
“Just imagine 250 children who have never been given a gift before in their lives,” he said to about 150 people at Breath of Life church.
Each was handed a shoebox, and inside that box were small toys, school supplies, candy and hygiene items. To these children, they were priceless treasures. Laughter and smiles were everywhere. The joy was contagious. “What did you get?” children asked each other.
Nearly 20 years later, Alex remembers the day.
“I will never forget the feel, the smell, I will never forget that day,” he said.
Inside that box, there were also a few things he found mysterious: Smarties (he thought the candy was medicine) and a comb that, when twisted, became a brush.
“I kept this comb everywhere I went for the next three years,” he said.
And then there was the red and white candy cane. He had no idea was it was, so he bit through the plastic wrapping. The taste was heaven.
“Every time I get a candy cane, I remember opening that shoebox,” the now 25-year-old Alex said.
And that shoebox, courtesy of Operation Christmas Child, operated by Samaritan’s Purse, changed his life. And it was his testimony that was the highlight of Wednesday’s annual OCC kickoff on Kauai. The event included music, a luau and dance.
Mike and Christina Ensman, area coordinators for Operation Christmas Child, were pleased with turnout and are looking forward to what they believe could be the program’s best year on Kauai.
“We’re very excited and full of anticipation,” Mike Ensman said. “This is a good start tonight. It was just a total blessing.”
Last year, fewer than 10 people attended the kickoff, and they still finished with 2,018 shoeboxes that went to kids in Nepal. This year’s goal is 3,500, and Mike believes they could receive even more.
“That’s not unreasonable to expect from the people of Kauai,” he said. “They’re giving people, they’re loving people.”
The shoeboxes are bound for children overseas. Those taking one are asked to fill it with different items, such as small toys, stuffed animals, hard candy, school supplies, hair brushes, toothpaste, and return it by Nov. 24. This year, dropoff centers will be at Breath of Life, Calvary Chapel North Shore Kauai and Crossroads Christian Fellowship.
The program has given hope to many where there was none.
“Alex is remarkable,” said Jennifer Trevithick, OCC West Coast regional director. “And there are millions of other Alexes all over the world because people like you have packed shoeboxes faithfully and God has used it for his glory. So keep up the good work.”
Christina said they love what they do for the children of the world. It’s a terrific chance to share their faith and provide gifts for kids who have little.
“I’m just thankful the Lord chose us to do it,” she said.
Tom Iannucci, pastor of Breath of Life church, said children suffer the most during wars and in times of poverty.
“All I see here is how the world can change, from the bottom up, through the children by giving them the gospel, letting them have love in their lives,” Iannucci said.
Kalani and Joleen Abreu of Lihue took home five shoeboxes Wednesday night. Joleen said she likes Operation Christmas Child because it’s an opportunity to teach their two children to give freely and to learn about sharing their blessings with those less fortunate. She explained to her keiki there are children across the world who must bathe in the river, have no home and sleep on a dirt floor.
“This is a way for you to reach out and for them to feel that love from someone else,” she said.
Nsengimana said the love from that shoebox set his life on a new course.
“In the last 20 years, many children have been blessed by these gifts,” he said. “You just heard one story out of 113 million children.”
In 1997, he was chosen to tour the U.S. and Canada with the African Children’s Choir. During that trip, he met a Minnesota family that he would later live with for about 10 years. Today, he lives in North Carolina.
In those years after leaving Rwanda, he remembers being angry at the men who killed his grandmother and uncle.
“I knew who they were,” he said. “I knew them by name.”
In March, he returned to Rwanda to visit the same orphanage where he received an OCC shoebox. This time, he was the one handing them out to thrilled, delighted children.
“Now I was there, a little bit taller, just a little bit, handing out the shoeboxes,” he said, laughing. “That was very special.”
During his return to Rwanda, Nsengimana went to meet the man who killed his uncle. He forgave him.
He asked the audience if they would think about who caused them pain in their lives. Their reaction can’t be bitterness and anger, he said.
“I’m here to tell you, you will never, ever have peace until you forgive that person,” he said.
Nsengimana asked one final question before wrapping up his presentation.
“Why am I telling you this story?” he said, pausing to look at the faces before him.
“Not for you to feel pity for me, not for you to pity the people of Rwanda, but to see the power of God,” he said. “If you take anything out of my testimony, it’s that we serve a powerful God.”
To volunteer with OCC or receive a shoebox, call Christina Ensman, 651-4371, or Mike Ensman, 651-5003.
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