By Michael Ashcraft —
Eight-year-old Emmanuel Ntibonera was just sitting down to dinner when the rebel takeover of his town in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) broke out. The next day, the whole family (nine children) fled — walking miles barefoot.
Eventually, he made it to a refugee camp in Kenya, from where he immigrated to America nine years later in 2009 with his family, who are Christians (the dad is a pastor).
“Remember where you came from,” God impressed on the heart of the young man who studied hard and eventually graduated from Liberty University. In 2015, he visited his native country and was appalled to see conditions had not improved. He never owned shoes during his childhood in the DRC, and he observed the same thing on his return trip.
“I’m seeing kids with no shoes (getting) infections and parasites,” he says on a Liberty convocation video. “God had blessed me. I have more than 10 pairs of shoes in my home. I can literally bring these here and saves lives. The parasites can only be prevented by appropriate footwear.
“I looked at myself and I felt guilty.”
And so began a shoe drive that became the Ntibonera foundation, in Greensboro, NC. He started doing concerts, at which the entry ticket was at least one pair of shoes. His home became a shoe storage. It soon became so full they had to look for a warehouse.
“In my room, the only place I had was to lay my head. Everywhere else was full of shoes,” he remembers. “I had 10,000 pairs of shoes in my house.”
Eventually, Emmanuel recruited the support of university staff to stage a campus-wide shoe drive to ship containers full of shoes to the DRC. Eventually, basketball legend Steph Curry lent his name to support the cause.
“God has been unfolding things. God was doing all these amazing things,” he says. On the scheduled day, Liberty University students all brought shoes to convocation, filling the stage with piles and piles of shoes. Liberty University paid for Emmanuel’s flight with 20,000 shoes.
After his dad preached, they began distributing shoes with 100 volunteers in 2017.
“A lot of people came to Christ,” Emmanuel says. “They were asking us, ‘Who are you? Where are you coming from?’ Because a lot of people have been in those villages and they made promises that they never fulfilled. But when we came there, they’re like, ‘We want to believe in the same God that you believe in.’ We blessed so many lives.”
Back in the United States, Emmanuel turned the extraordinary explosion of his humble beginnings into a foundation. He has vision to start schools for poor kids in the DRC – and give away many soles to needy souls.
Michael Ashcraft sells bamboo steamer baskets online to supplement his life as he writes Christian journalism.