Salvador Sabino witnessed four murders by the time he was 11 and spent nearly a decade behind bars. Today, he is a pastor at a church in Kingsbridge.
Sabino, 64, of the Heavenly Vision Christian Center, 2868 Jerome Ave., never in his wildest dreams imagined being of being in the clergy.
Raised in the Dominican Republic, he saw his first homicide at age 4 when his grandfather Abigain Jimenez killed another man.
“One thing I got after the third incident is that no one will ever kill me,” he explained.
At 13 he came to America and lived in El Barrio with his mom Juana Jimenez. He played baseball in Central Park and loved New York, but soon fell in with the wrong crowd.
Sabino began selling drugs, robbing people and fighting. The role models in his neighborhood were hustlers.
“For some reason it happened and I became a criminal,” he commented. “From 16 on, I started doing bad things.
I saw in my community that the people who were admired the most were the people who had the most money, most popularity and the most girls, were the drug dealers.”
Pretty soon the chickens came home to roost as the pastor got locked up twice for armed robbery and another time for drug possession.
But, this was a blessing in disguise as he found Jesus and became an inmate pastor. Prison turned his life around and he has been a model citizen since being released in 1990.
“When I got out I knew I would never go back to crime,” he stated.
Being locked up damaged the relationship between him and his mom. Fortunately, the two patched things up and she was able to see him join the clergy before she passed in 1994.
“My mom never expected me to become what I became,” he explained. “I hurt her and I really regret that.”
He began preaching in the community and with the help of his late uncle, Pastor Antonio Jimenez, opened the church 31 years ago.
Today, Sabino is a huge part of Kingsbridge. Eight of his clergy have started churches and many are drawn to him because of his story.
His wife Kenya works with him and they have two children, Rachel and Gabriel.
The pastor is quite humble and is grateful for everything in life.
“I believe that committing crimes was bad, but I had to use that to my advantage and street people trust me,” he explained. “People in this community are beautiful.”