ripple effect: vacaville

About Me (Part One): One Confused Kid

Hey, I guess it wouldn’t hurt for people to know a little about me. At the time of writing this, I am a 29-year-old youth pastor in Vacaville, CA, by way of Wilmington, NC, by way of Winston-Salem, NC, by way of Long Island, NY.

A little history:

I wasn’t really raised in a religious environment. My earliest memories of church are actually at a Baptist vacation Bible school in Long Island, NY. I remember coloring pictures of naked people in a garden. I also remember getting an army hat and singing about how I was in “the Lord’s army,” even though I had no idea what that meant.

I don’t remember much from church in NY; but, when I moved to NC when I was seven years old, I went to a small Catholic church in Mocksville name St. Francis of Assisi (a really, really small Southern town…it’s a wonder they had a Catholic church!). It was there that I began to learn a little bit more (but not much more). I did become an altar boy, which was cool because I got to help the priest and sit up on the stage during the uber-boring service. My memories at this church were mostly around playing with other kids, going on trips around Christmas time, being in Christmas plays, learning how to pray my rosary, having my first communion, and being “good at” the church thing. I remember one time we took our dog up to the church to have it blessed by the priest. I remember there was a cool priest who played video games, and I thought that was cool. But…

For the most part, though, church was more of a social thing. It was a place to get good baked ziti at pot lucks and sing funny while the hymns were going on in order to make my mom laugh. And, when I started to have the choice of whether I wanted to work on Sunday or go to church, I chose the MONEY! I started working as a bus boy on Sunday mornings at the local Holiday Inn with my mom, so I had no need for churchly things. This started when I was in the 7th grade. Yeah, I started working early.

That was it for church for a couple of years (probably some of the most impressionable ones). My parents ended up having an ugly divorce right at the end of my 9th grade year. And, since we didn’t really want to stay with my dad, I actually ended up living with my mom at the Holiday Inn for a summer. Sweet.

Eventually, my mom got romantically involved with a coworker and they bought a home for the four of us (my mom, the guy, my brother, and me). My mom want to re-establish the good stuff in our lives, so she had us go to a different Catholic church, Holy Family, for confirmation classes. I remember being in the class with a couple of rich kids from my new school, and I never really felt comfortable. To make matters worse, I have an active mind when it comes to the Bible; and I would ask questions to the “father” who was teaching the class that he didn’t have the patience to answer. I was a hurting kid. My life wasn’t exactly peachy at that point, and this guy actually told me, “Well, taking this class it kind of pointless for you. You don’t come to mass on Sunday morning.” Well…that was it for me and Holy Family…and church for that matter.

So…for a couple of years I told everyone that I was an atheist, Jewish, or basically whatever I thought would tick them off. I remember being in my AP English class, my junior year, and arguing with my teacher that teaching a book like “Moby Dick” or “The Scarlet Letter,” with their Biblical allusions, was unconstitutional because I didn’t believe in God. Yeah, I was a nice kid. I also equated “church kids” with the upper class kids who picked on me a lot, so that didn’t help.

OK…so how did I get involved in church? Kind of sneakily… My girlfriend in the 11th grade invited me to a “polaroid scavenger hunt.” I was thinking…cool. It was a really fun night. I met some cool people and had no idea that it was a religious group. The next week, I came to this “Young Life” in a different setting and found out that it was a “religious group.” Man, was I ticked off. I actually remember making fun of the speaker the entire time she talked about Jesus Christ. I think words like “brainwashed” and “naive” came out a couple of times.

I can’t quite explain it, though. I kept coming back. If I was “so offended,” what kept drawing me back? I really don’t know. All I know is that, in a whirlwind of events, I was now involved in a high school guys’ Bible study. I remember the first week, Hunter, our leader (a Wake Forest sophomore at the time), asked us to open our Bibles to the book of Ephesians. I was like, “What the heck is an Ephesian?” He told me to look in the table of contents. Thank God for the table of contents.

Somehow I ended up going on a weekend retreat to a place called Windy Gap with a bunch of other high schoolers from Winston-Salem. At that retreat, I don’t really remember anything except for a talk about sin that really made me mad. I basically asked Hunter, “What the heck are you guys bringing us out here for? Just to make us feel bad about ourselves?” That’s honestly all I remember except for a promotional video for a camp in Colorado that looked AWESOME! Screw all the Bible stuff. It just looked like an awesome place to go.

I ended up busting my butt at Taco Bell and fundraising to be able to go on this trip. It is no easy task for a trailer park kid to go on a trip that expensive! But, it happened. And I boarded a plane to Denver…

This place was more than I could even dream, Frontier Ranch in Colorado Springs. Awesome times. But, what was most amazing was the speaker. He presented the Gospel in such a way that I “got it” for the first time in my life. It clicked. Every message progressed so naturally into the next. I had enough time to think things through, to process. And, by the end of the week, I was ripe for that final talk. The final message was about the Prodigal Son. Boy, did I ever feel like that guy. I felt like I had so many gifts and talents, but I had wasted them on trying to be the cool guy, the funny guy, the ladies’ man. It didn’t work. I didn’t feel whole. Songs like “Runaway Train” were my favorite because they talked about pain…and I couldn’t even figure out where mine came from. All I knew is that he talked about the way that the father responded to the son coming to his senses. The father RAN to his son. And he explained the parallel. He explained that God would RUN to me if I turned towards him. After that, they played this song called “When God Ran.” An amazing song. The speaker told us all that he was going to give us 15 minutes to go out anywhere in the camp and talk to God, alone, silently. I’d definitely never done that before. I just remember praying to God, lying on my back on a sandy volleyball court, staring up at the Colorado sky, asking Him to come into my life– to make me whole. I felt goosebumps. When the airhorn blew, we all knew that we were supposed to go back inside. And, when we did, we began to worship together. Finally, the speaker came up before one last song, “Light the Fire.” He said that, if anyone had done business with God that night, that they could stand (in front of like 300 other high school kids) after the song was over while everyone else sat down. Then they would pass around a wireless mic. Whoah.

When the mic came to me, my legs were jelly. I was nervous. But I distinctly remember saying, “Hi, my name’s Paul Mannino. I’m from Winston-Salem, NC. And tonight I have asked Jesus to be my Lord and my Savior.” Others in my group did the same. One of my best friends was part of that group. The rest of the night was full of tears and hugs and stories. I remember being in a room and sharing my heart with a group of people, some of whom I had never met before that week. It was awesome.

And, on the plane ride home, with a couple of “quiet time” books in tow, I opened up my Bible for real for the first time in my life. I was 17 years old.

I can tell you this, though. Anyone who ends their testimony with a moment like that is cool; but I’ve always wondered. Well, then what? You know, it’s kind of cute to tell these stories because no one ever holds you accountable for your actions before you got “saved.” And it would be a shame if I had ever sinned past that point, right? Well, my story doesn’t end there; and I believe that God is still glorified in all the stumbling and bumbling of the past 11 years…

[To access the rest of my story, please request my password through a comment. Include your email, and I’ll send it to you. Then I’ll delete your comment.]


20 Comments so far
Leave a comment

That is a great story man. I’ll give you a couple of boo-ya’s!!!

Comment by The Green Arrow

Thanks, Matt.

Comment by supermannino

thas pretty cool dud though i’ve heard bits and pieces it makes sense now ha ha. but yeah i was just thinking about making one for myself..i’m home sick today and wanted to pass the time. what better way to get by sickness of the physical nature by relieving your sickness of the emotional/spiritual nature.

Comment by Wolverine

Logan…I really love your heart, man. I just have to say that. And, I’d love to read that.

Comment by supermannino

You’re story is truly inspiring Paul. I always like to listen to people’s testimonies because it gives me a chance to see how blessed and fortunate I was to have known God from such an earlier age. On the downside though, I struggle sometimes with the need of God, because I wasn’t in a well when I accepted Christ into my life, just an angled ditch.

Comment by Harrison

I am glad that see your life from that perspective. Don’t ever think that your testimony isn’t special because you were never “in a gutter.” The truth is that it is truly special to see how God can bless a kid who is brought up to know Him at an early age. I would love that for my own kids.

As far as the “need of God” goes, I can understand that. We definitely can get comfortable. Maybe it’s our own perspective, though, that we think that we are just in “angled ditches.” Compared to a holy God, I think we are all far more broken and desperate than we think.

Comment by supermannino

You have an awesome blessing from God to relay your impression of these scriptures. That is truly a gift, that is enjoyed all over the world. GOd has annointed you with a great understanding instead of just a “study” Thank you for sharing. I love Psalms 51 and my pastor recently did a study with points similar to yours. I am so very cautious in what I read and always want to make sure its all God and I get only what he wants me to see I. just wanted to say thanks! Im bookmarking your stuff! Have a blessed day!

Comment by Robin

Mary Kate told me about your blog a few weeks ago and I just remembered to check it out tonight. I’m excited to start reading my Bible with this thing, dude, you have no idea.

Comment by Courtney

That’s awesome. Booyakah, booyakah, 619. Amen.

Comment by supermannino

Hello. I would like the password so I can read the rest of your story. Thanks

Comment by Dian

My first look at you web, sorry, blog, old school learning. Good to see who my girls see at our youth at CCC. Thanks for sharing your past and your present with our families!

Comment by Dan: AKA: Holly/Kady's Dad

I am 35 years old with an 18 year old heart. Am I chronologically too old for this web?… since I started ministering to the youth “The Chosen Generation” about 3 months ago Im very interested on how to see and feel how it was to be at their age again. I am enjoying every minute of it and I just have to thank you for taking the time to do this for all of us interested in learning how to fall in love with God again and filling our spirits with the appropriate ingredients. Pleeaasse send me your password. Thanks And God Bless you more each day!

Comment by Silvia

Hi Paul,
I just happened across your website on the idolstalk you left a comment on. So of course, in my nosiness, I decided to read about you. I’ve enjoyed reading your testimony. I think a youth group, one that reaches out to the other youth in the community is so important. Praise God you are submitting to his calling and reaching out to teens in your community.

My husband is a children’s minister in Texas (his name is Paul too). It is a priviledge to share Jesus with this younger generation and I am sure God blesses your heart the way He has been blessing ours as we minister.

I would love to read the rest of your testimony and I will be referring my teenage son to your site. He has been looking for something to feed him, to give him more to think about.

Thanks for sharing your testimony!
Jennifer Raack

Comment by Jennifer Raack

I’m not sure how I got to this blog but I would like to read more of your testimony. I am 58 yrs. old……do you have room for old men??? Thanks again for your testimony!

Comment by Ike

In the scope of eternity, you’re pretty young.

Comment by supermannino

I need to read the rest of your story…you left me hanging =)

Comment by Letha

Well, I hope you read the rest, Letha…

Comment by supermannino

I “stumbled” upon your blog and cried all the way through. I am a “grandma” and I never tire of hearing how God works in a persons heart to bring them to Him. Praise God for your salvation!

Comment by Carol

Hi Paul and Mary Kate, I met you at New Harvest my name is Alicia Negri 10th girls leader. Love to read the rest of your story. Very nice spending time with you guys.

Comment by alicia

Hey Paul,

Awesome beginning for you… would love to read the rest…

Comment by Ken Horton

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