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FRED DE SAM LAZARO, guest anchor: Now, a report about an unusual ministry from one of the West Coast's most blighted corners. It's in East Oakland, California. It's a ministry for the homeless -- and that describes the minister too. Lucky Severson has this profile.

LUCKY SEVERSON: Sometimes there are as many as 50 homeless people, some drunk, some high, most hungry. They're here outside this empty store in East Oakland every night waiting for the preacherman.

VINCENT PANNIZZO (Preacherman, walking over to the homeless): How you doing? How you doing? How's it going?

SEVERSON: It may be one of the few things they can depend on -- religion at the corner of Foothill and Coolidge every night at 10:30.

Vincent Pannizzo

Mr. PANNIZZO (preaching): Heavenly Father we pray for the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts and to guide us, to strengthen us, to set us on the right path.

SEVERSON: They know he understands their situation because the preacherman, Vincent Pannizzo, is one of them.

Mr. PANNIZZO (preaching): In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we pray. Amen. I despair every single day, every day, yeah. How would you like to be homeless, living on the street? You'll say, "Well, you chose homelessness." I don't choose anything. God chooses everything for us.

SEVERSON: So you think God chose you to do this?

PANNIZZO: Of course.

SEVERSON: To minister to the homeless?

PANNIZZO: Yeah, I'd rather not do it but I have to be obedient to God. I can't be otherwise. His spirit is already in me.

(preaching): And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. This is what John says.

SEVERSON: By night this is not a safe neighborhood. Pannizzo has been robbed six times, sometimes at gunpoint.

PANNIZZO: It wasn't as bad as getting slapped in the face, which happened to me a couple times. That's even worse.

SEVERSON (to Mr. Pannizzo): Slapped in the face by?

PANNIZZO: Just people who felt that they needed to get their aggressions out on a homeless guy.

Pannizzo

SEVERSON: Preaching on the streets was about the last thing Vincent Pannizzo imagined he'd end up doing. Religion was not an important part of his upbringing. He was an honors student in ancient history at Rutgers University. Then, when he was in his fourth year of a doctorate program at U.C. Berkeley, he started reading the Bible casually and came across a verse that changed his life in a profound way.

PANNIZZO: "Give to all who ask." Luke, chapter 6. This, actually, when I was still on the fence deciding whether this you know was real or not, I decided that the idea was extraordinary in itself, right -- giving to everybody who asks. Why not? Why not give to anybody who asks? I began to practice it, and I found that the more I practiced it, the more I had faith in it, and the more I had faith in the Scriptures, and the more I had faith in Jesus.

SEVERSON: He's been ministering to the homeless and giving them money for nine years.

PANNIZZO: (walking over to the homeless woman): What do you need exactly?

UNIDENTIFIED HOMELESS WOMAN: I need $20. You should give me $20.

PANNIZZO: Well, I don't have that.

UNIDENTIFIED HOMELESS WOMAN: Can you give me $10?

PANNIZZO: Well, I can give you like six . . .

SEVERSON: Five years ago, he became homeless himself.

PANNIZZO: I used to invite the homeless people over to my house, and I was kicked out of three places doing that, three apartments. After I lost my third apartment I said, well -- my wife had already left me by that time -- when I lost my third apartment I said forget it. I'm staying on the street.

SEVERSON: His home now is a small camp next to a noisy freeway.

PANNIZZO: I'm over there. That's where I sleep.

SEVERSON: Oh, you're right over here?

PANNIZZO: Yeah, I'm right over there, that humble place.

SEVERSON: Humble, but neat as a pin. Next to his bedroll, his books and the candles he reads by. Vincent is the leader of this small homeless camp that includes Donna Little Moon and Melvin Bear.

MELVIN BEAR: Even though we're out in the open, we still feel safe 'cause Vinny's here, you know.

SEVERSON: Yeah.

BEAR: Yeah.

SEVERSON: This may be the cleanest homeless camp in East Oakland, a refuge for those who are scorned on the streets. Vincent teaches them to love their tormentors.

Donna Little Moon

DONNA LITTLE MOON: Vinny taught us to, you know, treat them the right way. So we say, regardless of what they do, we say God bless. I say God bless.

PANNIZZO (with homeless guy on a bench): You know you're welcome at the camp, man. All right? If you have any problems, let me know, and I'll fix it, okay?

LOUISE HILL: He's like nobody I've ever met before.

SEVERSON: Louise Hill retired from the EPA after 30 years. She met Vincent when he was pumping gas for spare change and now hires him to do odd jobs. He finds some kind of work, like carpentry, almost every day.

HILL: He keeps nothing for himself at all. He buys food for people, and he keeps nothing for himself.

PANNIZZO (after his sermon at night giving money away): You got something right? You got something, too? Everyone got something, right? You need a blanket? I got you, sister.

SEVERSON: But then you end up giving away almost all of the money you earn?

PANNIZZO: All of it.

SEVERSON: All of it?

PANNIZZO: I have no use for money at all. I know that God takes care of me. He feeds me, and he clothes me right. He keeps me healthy so I can do his work, so I can take care of others. He provides me with everything that I need so I can take care of people, people who essentially can't take care of themselves.

SEVERSON: Bill Ward has been homeless for eight years, and he thinks many who show up here each night to hear Vincent preach are not here for the preaching but for a free handout.

BILL WARD: I was the one who told him, look, why don't you just come here for like a couple weeks, preach the word, and don't give out anything - food, blankets, you know. See who will be here.

HILL: He doesn't judge people. He doesn't say, well, I'm not going to give this person money because I know they're ripping me off. He gives money to everybody.

SEVERSON (to Mr. Pannizzo): Do you think some of them might take advantage of you?

(preaching at night): John says do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

HILL: He's really the only person that I know of that preaches to people that churches probably would turn away. You know, drug addicts and alcoholics, you know, even though they may not specifically go to a church, if they did those are not the kind of people a church, you know, would cater to.

Louise Hill

SEVERSON: It was difficult to convince Pannizzo to do an interview because, he says, he doesn't want what he is doing to be glorified. But he doesn't like to be ridiculed either by people who believe he's taken his religion too far.

PANNIZZO: I mean, it's painful. I don't like people to think that I'm nuts. I like to be treated with respect and dignity. I mean, for crying out loud, I once desired a career in academia. Now I'm a homeless guy having nothing, being a servant to everybody on the street and people thinking I'm nuts or on drugs.

PANNIZZO (handing out food to the homeless): Here you go, brother.

SEVERSON: There's little question that Pannizzo feels compassion for the people on the streets, but he says it's Christ's compassion, not his. He says he serves the homeless for his own salvation. You don't do drugs?

PANNIZZO: No.

SEVERSON: You don't drink?

PANNIZZO: No.

SEVERSON: You don't smoke?

PANNIZZO: No.

SEVERSON: What do you do?

PANNIZZO: Suffer. Jesus says pick up your cross and follow me and deny yourself every day. And that's what I'm doing. I'm denying myself. I'm denying myself a life here. What did Jesus say? He who seeks his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake will gain it everlastingly.

PANNIZZO (handing out food to the homeless): You want some bread?

SEVERSON: He says what he's doing on the streets is no different from the many stories of personal sacrifice in the Bible, and he can't understand why people today consider it so unusual.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I'm Lucky Severson in East Oakland, California.

Homeless Preacher

Vincent Pannizzo lives in East Oakland, California. He provides a ministry for those with nowhere else to go, although he himself is homeless.

  • ed gross

    thanks for this interview with vince pannizzio. i thank God for him. May God bless and use him. May God teach us what it means to follow Jesus. To trust Him and obey His Word. Give to those who ask you. May God show us others who are simply doing what He has told us to do–without rationalizing it away from its simple purity.

  • Ruben

    LORD, how do we all live out the Gospel like this man? Every time I think of Preacher Man I’m so convicted by the reality of NOT living it out the like it should be. It’s almost 10:30pm now, and my brother is out there sharing Your love and word, and I’m sitting comfortably on my couch. I know I can at least pray for Preacher Man, but, honestly, he doesn’t need my prayers. I need his. We all need his conviction. It’s a completely understandable statement from a Christian perspective, “he can’t understand why people today consider it so unusual.” Every Christian should be as ‘unusual’ as Preacher Man, but we aren’t. We’re not even close! May You grant us all the Spirit to enable us to live out the Gospel like your servant Preacher Man. Thank You for him and the few like him!

  • Gene McGee

    there is not a better role model for the heart of a Christian man – no comfort, nowhere to lay his head, nothing but being a slave to his Master, Jesus and loving those he is called to serve – it’s his heart that says, “yes,” every day in willing obedience to follow Christ – I pray for his strength and resolve to continue – I see the hands and feet of Christ in him – I see Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners and being right at home with them because this man knows he is also a sinner and no different from the marginalized – scorners will mock him because he makes them feel uncomfortable with their own hard hearts – I know, because I was a scorner – this is the message of the good news – while I was a sinner, Christ died for me.

  • Mark Medrek

    I was that guy’s roommate in the Army all through training, and we served the remainder of our time on Fort Bragg as paratroopers. We even met each other’s families. That’s my brother from another mother.

  • Cory

    Where in east Oakland California is he at Paul said that he would rather glory in his infirmities so the power of god would rest on him that’s stepping out in faith

  • yvonne s

    Is he open to living under a roof? Would he be willing to move? Would he be willing to disciple believers & non believers as he does on the streets and yet have a home base? We would be willing to learn from this man & give what we have. We would love to converse via email/phone. We are nobody’s w a 2′nd chance after an accident. Trying to move forward in our log furniture talent, our vision, in semi-rural house/shop & land. We hunger to do more for the lord & to be better used by Him. We often ponder what can we do differently w all that we have. This can be set to private if you deem it best as it is in earnest.

  • Tab

    What a sobering video to see the “love” of Jesus so powerfully expressed in a man who has given and is giving his all. He has a ministry that I think many would be willing to support. This video was in 2008. Could you do an update on his life and ministry.? I think it would be wonderful if you would include a way for those of us who are humbled by his life and love for Jesus to at least be able to support him. I know I want to support what he is doing to feed the poor , cloth the poor and minister Jesus to those on the streets.

  • Donna

    Please read this entire comment & bear in mind that I am NOT against Vincent per se, but my call to the readers is to think & to be discerning, especially if you are students of the bible. Any caps are meant for emphasis only. I did not read these comments listed here till after I’d already written my views below. Please check the link below which I discovered after I had written this article & added it at the bottom.

    In watching the video of the homeless preacher…my view is that this is where this man is in his life & Jesus wants to teach him & will continue to teach him thru these experiences. I love his spirit & of course, I hate the whole spirit of babylon (church system) w/ a passion of which I am not a part!

    Having said that, I also met a woman who was formally homeless (& others) who ministered to the homeless after she gave her life to Jesus & she was very giving & loving, but also discerning…we learn obedience as we go thru life. I, myself, have ministered to the poor/homeless w/ others in NY & other places & one time I was fooled by a good actor w/ his story, so I learned thru that experience & never gave him anything anymore.

    I also used to play the piano at a place where the poor/homeless gathered for lunch & the Lord would arrange for me to meet w/ someone now & then to talk w/ them or help them or pray w/ them, perhaps give them something, but rarely any money…but never to give to everyone. Remember that Jesus was disappointed w/ those who followed Him just b/c He gave them food & Jesus was discerning…He was not a victim & did not allow Himself to be abused. He was when He did what His Father asked of Him re: His sufferings & crucifixion. This man needs some balance in his life & I believe that will come in time.

    I know what it’s like to be homeless b/c the Lord allowed me to go thru that season for almost a year, however, I was not left on the streets…it did show me in bold relief what the babylonish/church people thought of me, yet at the same time, the LGoord always took care of me. Life is complex, but Jesus within is the Master of all & He uses everything we go thru if we let Him. After

    I’d like to include these observations that I did not include in the above writing, since I have watched this video a second time.

    What Vincent nees is discernment & wisdom for sure. Even another homeless man was smart enough to realize that if Vincent didn’t come thru w/ food & money there would be less people there, if any, in about 2 weeks.

    At around 1:02 Vincent talks about God choosing for him to do this & also that God chooses everything for US…NOT. At 2:37 a woman asks for $20. & he says he doesn’t have it, so she changed it to $10 & then he gives her $6. He lets the homeless into his home & 3 different times he has to leave his home…could it be that he broke his lease in doing so? His wife leaves him; perhaps she felt uncared for & also unsafe w/ those who were in her house?!

    At 5:20 a woman relates of Vincent not judging anyone even if he thinks they’re ripping him off, BUT JESUS judged righteously & commanded us to judge righteously as well as Paul. Jesus also trusted no man b/c He knew what was in men’s hearts. Feeding people’s flesh, ie, their desires is enabling them…I think Vincent is trying to fix people since he cannot fix himself.

    At 5:35 Vincent talks about being abused & points to Jesus as being abused when in fact Jesus fled several times from those who were set to kill him, b/c it was not His Father’s time so He was always aware of & discerning the time of His Father’s will.

    The interviewer tells how Vincent serves others for HIS SALVATION! Also, the message he is giving is NOT about Jesus being your only Hope of Glory, but he gives out good words to follow…love others, give to others, etc.

    In Luke 14:16-24, (vs. 23) see what Jesus is really saying thru this parable–”Go out unto the highways & hedges, & compel them to come IN, the MY HOUSE (certainly not the church buildings!) may be filled, ie, the invisible Kingdom of God! And in vs. 26 the Lord is NOT telling anyone to abandon his family, in fact, Jesus gave His mother to John & John to His mother at the time of His crucifixion. Also, 1 Tim. 5:8 says–But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an INFIDEL. There’s more to write but let me just say that the link below confirms my inner questions re: this man.

    And then I read these comments from the link below which only confirmed my questions! To the saints, I say, check your emotions, do not rush into having opinions, bring it all to Jesus & be discerning & ask for wisdom!!!

    http://vialogue.wordpress.com/2008/05/26/oakland-preacherman-are-we-all-crazy/

  • stanley thomas fowler

    does anyone know where this guy is during the day? or how to get a hold of him, help his cause? thats me on facebook, feel free to contact me on facebook.

  • Pat Smyklo

    Vincent Pannizzo, the “Preacher Man”, continues day and night as a servant of Jesus Christ. He ministers to the homeless up and down Fruitvale Ave. in East Oakland, as well as the downtown area of Oakland, CA. I see him every day, so if anyone wishes, a note can be delivered to him through the http://www.missionforthehomeless.org website email at info@missionforthehomeless.org .