About 12 years ago, Khari Manuel developed his personal vision statement, and he recommits to it first thing every morning: Be a man after God’s heart, put my wife before everything under the sun, teach my kids to love others, add value to other people.
It’s that vision statement that fuels everything he does as a husband and dad, area sales director for Ascensia Diabetes Care and spin instructor for the YMCA. Manuel met his wife, Jennifer, at Oklahoma State University. Jennifer is a professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and homeschools their three kids, Bryce, 15, Kinley, 13 and Drake, 11. The husband and wife duo has led 14 mission trips to Africa and Haiti, their kids each joining them multiple times. The Manuels live by the philosophy of swimming upstream in a mainstream world, relying heavily on their faith and serving others together.
Tell me about your decision to go on your first mission trip overseas.
My testimony is really one of ‘never.’ I was never going to leave the country, never going to lead a small group, never going to attend church with my wife. I had found my purpose and asked God to challenge me. We were in Atlanta and right before the church service there was information on an Africa trip that popped up. I wanted to go and thought maybe this was what God was telling me to do. I signed Jennifer and I up that day because I was feeling motivated. I came home and told her, our kids were like 1, 3 and 5, and she asked what we were going to do with our kids. I said I didn’t know but that we needed to go to Africa. She said ‘okay, that sounds great,” but later she told me she went to our room and cried, wondering who would keep our kids for 10 days! We started fundraising, our parents came to watch the kids and that trip rocked our world in ways we couldn’t have imagined. We have been to Africa nine times, to Haiti six times and after our first trip with 410 Bridge [a nonprofit organization helping communities in poverty-stricken nations develop and restore themselves], we have led all our other trips there.
What has been most impactful for you about your mission trips?
You go over there to help, but you come back helped. The first time we arrived in a community, think mud huts and open fires, they prepared a meal for us. Fresh corn and chicken just slaughtered. They didn’t know if they would have a meal the next week, but they shared what they had with strangers. I’ve realized I need to be a better steward of what God has blessed me with.
When did you and Jennifer start talking about taking your kids on mission trips?
When we were on our first mission trip in Kenya our prayer was that one day we could take our whole family. We didn’t know how we could pay for it, so we decided to take them each individually so they would have time to process it just with us. This past year, the community we first visited is closing out [to mission trips] because they are thriving on their own. We teach how to fish instead of fishing for them, the community working alongside you, so that they can sustain. The cool thing is we got to take our whole family back to that community on one of [410 Bridge’s] last trips there.
What parts of their experiences resonated most with your kids?
Bryce was 12 when we went to Kenya. When you pull up in the van, there are hundreds of kids running up to you, singing praises. She felt like a rockstar and she loved loving on those kids. Kinley was 10 when we went to an orphanage in Uganda and she talks all the time about going back to hold those kids. In fact, she’s going back by herself [with 410 Bridge] this year. We are nervous but this is what we’ve raised our kids to do. Drake was 8 when we went to Haiti, and it’s mass chaos, much tougher than Kenya. I don’t think he talked for the first three days until we got back to our hotel room and he would process with us. By day four he came out of his shell, and he liked playing soccer with the kids. Being uncomfortable like that is important because that’s when we get the most growth. We are so blessed, and our kids have everything they want. We want to give them perspective and to know that balance. We’re not just going to talk about serving, we’re going to actually do it.
Exploring Beyond Oklahoma: Family mission trip opportunities
To learn more about trips available with 410 Bridge, visit www.410bridge.org. If you’re interested in more family mission trips like the ones that have impacted the Manuel family, check out these resources:
e3Partners offers multi-generational mission opportunities internationally. They help families raise the financial support they need to travel and then take care of the details with families in mind. They currently have upcoming trips to Nepal and Panama. Learn more at www.e3partners.org.
World Servants takes a holistic approach to healing communities (domestic and international) by addressing health, education, faith and economy with an emphasis on children and families. They organize trips for families and aim to help even the youngest family members find skills and talents to serve others. Learn more at www.worldservants.info.
Epic Missions aims to help the whole family serve others and make memories together. They welcome families with children of any age to pursue missions within the U.S. and focuses on equipping parents to show their kids the value of missions while they’re still young. Learn more at www.epicmissions.org.