Alex Nsengimana lost almost his entire family in the Rwandan genocide when he was just six years old, but years later he has found the strength to forgive those who shattered his childhood.
The genocide began on April 7 1994, after President Juvénal Habyarimana – a member of the Hutu tribe – was killed as his plane was shot down over the capital city of Kigali. Hutus took to the streets, slaughtering Tutsis, with whom they were engaged in an ongoing civil war, as well as moderate members of their own tribe. The killings would last 100 days, leaving around 800,000 dead, and devastating the entire Rwandan nation – which is still suffering from the tragedy today.
Alex was able to hide from the killing with his brother and sister, but their grandmother and uncle weren't so fortunate. They were both brutally murdered in front of the young children.
Alex and his siblings then escaped to Kigali to find their aunt, but found it was just as dangerous in the city. "Life was not any better there," he explains, though adding that he believes God was looking after them even during those terrible days.
"One day God saved our lives. The militiaman's gun did not load when he was about to shoot my family and me. We eventually packed the little things we could carry with us and ran up and down the hills of Rwanda. Wherever the night found us was where we slept."
The children managed to find protection with the Tutsi-majority Rwandan Patriotic Front, and were eventually put into an orphanage, which is where Alex first came to know Christ. He received a box of gifts through the Operation Christmas Child outreach programme run by Samaritan's Purse.
"As a seven-year-old, living in the Rwandan orphanage, one of these shoebox gifts brought hope to my life," he says. "I want people to know that they can make a difference in a child's life in a very simple way."
It is this hope that has transformed Alex's life. He was adopted by an American family and moved to the States, where he has managed to find peace despite the devastation of his childhood. He says, however, that many Rwandans are still suffering from the effects of the genocide.
"The genocide left a legacy of emotional, physical and financial wounds. The physical and financial wounds are healing more so than the emotional ones; this is what is affecting individuals and families the most 20 years later," he explains.
He believes that there are several factors blocking his country from reconciliation and restoration.
"One is the spiritual poverty," he contends. "During the genocide, instead of the churches being a safe haven for people they became slaughterhouses, because those who ran the church were part of the militias. Many people are blaming God for what happened in Rwanda.
"My second suggestion is imbedded within the Rwandan culture. Our culture is a very closed and very private culture – so much so that many Rwandans don't talk about what happened during the genocide. This process is not easy, but I believe that sharing and being open about what happened can heal unhealed wounds. Even those that people do not know they have.
"I remember when I was asked to share my life experience for the first time and how great it felt when I was able to let go a little bit. I realised that talking about what happened does not disrespect my beloved grandmother and uncle, but in doing so I found peace, and that's what they would wish for me. When God revealed to me that he had a plan for my life, I saw the miracles that he did to save my life. Accepting Jesus Christ into my life helped me deal with my emotional wounds. I am very grateful for the many people that God used to help me in the process."
Last year, Alex travelled to Rwanda to meet face-to-face with those who murdered his family; he offered them forgiveness, and prayed with them.
"The love of Jesus Christ and of the people around me helped me and showed me that I wanted to share that same love with others. One day I was asked: 'Alex, what if today you sit and share a meal with a person who has caused you the most pain in your life. What would you do?' I did not want to think about the question too long because I knew the answer very well, but this question would not leave my mind. I also read in the Bible that we are all created in God's image. I asked myself: how could a person who killed my uncle and grandmother be created in God's image?
"In my struggles to find healing, I started to pray to God to heal me by helping me meet the people who caused me the most pain. It was the most peaceful moment of my life when I was able to meet the man who killed my uncle last year! I am thankful God answered my prayer. My healing process continues."
Alex is passionate about helping others to find the freedom that he has experienced, and believes it is possible through a steadfast faith in God.
"It is my prayer that through the love of our Lord Jesus Christ my fellow Rwandans can be healed," he says.
"We are all on this journey together. I have seen that healing take place in the lives of many people, which gives me great hope for the others.
"My prayer is that God will continue to reveal himself to the people of Rwanda and that they can receive the healing that comes from him, the God that gave reconciliation to us: 'For if, while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation'" (Romans 5:10-11, NIV).