Emmanuel “Manny” Ohonme ‘93 had it made.
He was a successful business technology executive enjoying the perks of a six-figure income. But last year, the former Concordia basketball star quit his job and took a leap of faith, landing feet first in groundbreaking Christian ministry.
Ohonme is founder, president and chair of the board of Legacy of the Vine Ministries, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C. His most visible and ambitious ministry is Samaritan’s Feet.
“Our goal is to equip impoverished children with 10 million pairs of shoes in 10 years,” Ohonme says. “We’re putting shoes on their feet and telling them about the love of Jesus.”
A native of Lagos, Nigeria, Ohonme knows firsthand what profound joy a pair of shoes can bring to a needy child. He grew up sleeping on a concrete floor and sharing space in a small home with eight brothers and sisters. He got his first pair of shoes at age 9 – a gift from a group of Americans holding a basketball camp in his city.
“Those shoes changed my life,” Ohonme says. “I got excited about playing basketball and that’s ultimately what provided me a platform to come to this country.”
A full-ride basketball scholarship brought him to the University of North Dakota-Lake Region in Devils Lake, N.D. Two years later, he transferred to Concordia where he continued his basketball career and earned a degree in international relations.
“I made some great friends at Concordia,” he says. “Concordia challenged me academically and provided an international perspective that taught me how to think from a world view.”
He pondered playing pro ball in Europe before opting to pursue a master’s degree in applied economics at NDSU. It proved to be a profitable decision. His business technology savvy relating to commerce logistics and transportation led to a series of prominent career placements, culminating with his recent role as vice president for Business Development Alliances at Elogex Inc. in Charlotte.
In the midst of his success, a haunting vision challenged him to take his life in a new direction. One morning about five years ago, he woke up “sweating like crazy.” He was having an intense dream about running his own international sports-based Christian ministry, something he had always wanted to do.
“My passion for that dream never stopped,” he says. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘My God! Look at all these kids around the world like me walking around with no purpose. How can I reach them?’”
Ohonme shared his dream with his wife, Tracie. And though the notion of starting his own worldwide ministry seemed far-fetched, the idea continued to tug at his heart. A pivotal prompting came during a conversation with a woman at a Christmas Eve worship in 2002.
“She walked up to Tracie and me and said, ‘God’s given you guys a vision, but you keep putting God in a box. Don’t put God in a box this year.’ And we had never talked to that lady about our vision before.”
Subsequent conversations reinforced their challenge in March 2003, an amazing sequence of events led to the realization of Ohonme’s dream. He and Tracie took a weekend away from home and their four children to spend time in fervent prayer seeking God’s direction.
They talked about their fears of giving up everything to answer God’s call. “I told Tracie that if God is going to do this, I just want six months of (financial) cushion to make the transition.”
The first day back at work after their soul-searching weekend, Ohonme’s prayer was answered in a powerful way. Ohonme’s boss called him into his office for a “heart-to-heart” conversation. Having noticed Ohonme’s growing discomfort with his work environment and aware of his passion to begin a ministry, the pair reached a mutual decision to part ways. His departure included a six-month severance package.
From there, the pieces came together quickly. Ohonme shared his vision with groups of business leaders who he inspired to provide the much-needed venture capital to get Samaritan’s Feet off and running.
Teaming with schools, churches and civic groups and scores of volunteers around the country, Ohonme’s ministry is changing lives in Africa, Eastern Europe and South America. “Shoe of Hope” collection drives continue to gain momentum and a series of “JC Jam Fests,” a sports ministry featuring three-on-three basketball tournaments and Samaritan Mile 5K Walkathons, are bringing the shoes – and the gospel – to those who have had neither. Ahead this summer are missions to Ecuador, Romania and Kenya. Future missions are scheduled for Ukraine, Nigeria and South Africa.
Ohonme recalls the joy of leading a mission journey to Cape Town, South Africa, last November. He’ll forever treasure the privilege of serving the people there.
“People were lined up forever – hundreds of them,” he says. “We washed their feet, gave them new shoes and prayed with them.
“I remember a woman coming up to me with her three children and tears welling up in her eyes as she said, ‘Sir, what would compel you to want to wash my feet?’ I replied, ‘Because of the love of Jesus.’ And she said, ‘I want to know that Jesus.’ At that moment, I knew I was doing the right thing.”
So fulfills a prophecy Ohonme’s mother shared with him long ago. While pregnant with Ohonme, she had an eerie encounter one night with someone she believed was walking in her room to kill her. She told her son how she rebuked the spirit and it walked right back out of the room. That night she made a pact with God, promising that if she had a boy, she would name him Emmanuel – because God was with her son.
“She always told me that I’m going to serve God,” Ohonme says. “I always used to say, ‘Mom, I just want to make money.’ Now I know that God had a much bigger plan for me than I did.”
Originally published in the Spring 2004 Concordia Magazine