Sal’s surrender

By Scott Harrup*



For one inmate all the violence and hatred instantly vanished.


Salvador "Sal" Sabino loved to walk with his grandfather through the countryside in the Dominican Republic. When he was 5, one of those walks set his life on a course of violence that seemed inescapable for decades.

"My grandfather saw a man he had argued with," Sabino says. "He told me to run, and then he began to yell at the man." Instead of going home, Sabino hid and watched his grandfather murder his adversary with a bayonet. The village was in alarm. Men ran at his grandfather, brandishing machetes. The police arrived and were shooting in the air. His grandfather was taken away to spend years in prison.

Tragically, little Salvador’s vision of violence was reinforced. Before leaving the Dominican Republic at 13, he watched a man stab another in front of his home and later saw a policeman shoot a man for no apparent reason.

"There was a line of violence drawn through my life," Sabino says. "I started hating the police, and I viewed everyone as potentially dangerous."

He moved to New York City with his mother and stepfather. His previous hometown of Macoris in the Dominican Republic is world famous for producing professional baseball players. Sabino found an outlet in baseball at Booker T. Washington Junior High. But his interest in baseball was overshadowed by his discovery of drugs.

"I started doing marijuana when I was about 15," he says. He joined a gang and began doing small crimes. His drug habit grew to include cocaine and heroin, and his violence worsened.

Sabino graduated from high school, but in 1977 at the age of 20 he was in jail charged with armed robbery.

"My uncle visited me," Sabino says. "He held his left hand in the air, shaking two of his fingers. ‘There are only two ways in life,’ he was saying over and over. ‘Jesus or the world.’ "

The uncle had tried to salvage Sabino’s life years earlier. He had taken his nephew to church, where a Pentecostal preacher prayed over him and prophesied, "This kid belongs to the Lord." The uncle offered to take Sabino to church regularly, but Sabino’s stepfather didn’t want the boy to become a "holy roller." He gave Sabino money to go to the movies on Sunday so he would not be home when the uncle visited.

Sabino’s uncle now pleaded with him to turn his life over to Christ.

"He said he had a gift for me, a New Testament," Sabino says. "I told him, ‘I don’t need to read that book. That book is a lie.’ "

But another prisoner stepped in and begged Sabino to accept the Bible. He finally took it to his cell, and the prisoner followed him. The man had killed seven people. He didn’t know how to read, and he begged Sabino to read to him. Every day until he was bailed out, Sabino read the New Testament to the murderer and two other prisoners three or four times a day.

Out on bail, Sabino was soon involved in crime again. His next prison sentence kept him behind bars for three years. At the conclusion of that sentence, his life was still a mess.

"I was still selling drugs," he says, "and using them. I would hole up in my apartment for days on end taking drugs. I would even have shootouts with the police and see their bodies fall on the floor full of bullet holes. It was all in my mind."

Sabino had only been out of prison four months when he was arrested the final time. Police raided a drug house he had been running; he was jailed to await trial and perhaps life in prison.

He found another Bible in jail, this time through the most unlikely means imaginable. "I had contacted a couple of witchdoctors in prison to ask them to help me get out with a spell," he says. "I told them to get me a spirit book, and they contacted a witch on my behalf. But the book she mailed me was a Bible. I was so angry."

The witch thought Sabino could use the Bible as a talisman, but Sabino began reading it again. One night, he made an offer to the God he had been reading about.

"I prayed, ‘If it’s true that You live and what these people say, wake me up for chapel in the morning.’"

The next morning at around 5:30, Sabino experienced a miraculous alarm clock.

"It was a voice more powerful than any loudspeaker," he says, "but beautiful and touching my heart. It was a voice the Bible describes as ‘many waters.’ I got up, but I thought it was a drug flashback. I prayed, ‘Lord, if it’s You, call me again.’ I started to go back to bed, and it came even louder. ‘Salvador,’ the voice called. Then I’m on my knees, and the voice was there again, and it felt like someone was hugging me from behind like my mother hugging me as a kid, and the voice in my ear was so intimate. ‘Salvador, go to the chapel and serve Me.’ "

Sabino started walking around in his cell shouting, "Hallelujah" and "Praise God." When a guard came, he begged to go to chapel. Since he had not signed up the night before, his request was denied. But the next guard who came in at 6 a.m. let him shower and attend.

"Since that day," Sabino says, "I’ve not turned one step back. I’ve been walking in the Lord ever since."

With Christ in his life, Sabino now faced a tough decision. He called his lawyer and said he was going to plead guilty to the charges against him. He was a Christian and could not lie to the prosecutors. His lawyer thought he was insane. Miraculously, despite Sabino’s multiple offenses and the large amount of drugs he had been arrested with, he received the minimum sentence of four and one half years.

"I was transferred to Fishkill Correctional Facility in New York," Sabino says. "I started to fast. I didn’t know how to fast, so I asked another prisoner who was Buddhist how he fasted. ‘You don’t eat,’ he told me."

After three days of refusing his food, Sabino received a visit from an officer who wanted to know if he was on a hunger strike. He reassured the man and continued to fast. Two days later, he had the dream that has shaped his life ever since.

"I was in heaven totally dressed in white," he says. "My green prison garb and boots were gone and I was in a room of impeccable beauty. A door opened to my left, and a giant hand motioned for me to come out. As I came out of the door, there was a giant person to my right. It was like He was 90 feet tall. He said, ‘Give Me his robes.’ He put a robe on me like gold and full of gemstones. As He dressed me, it was like rivers flowing through me. I started weeping. Then He said, ‘Give me his crown.’ Then He touched my lips with His right hand and said, ‘Now, go and preach My Word.’ Thousands of people from all nations were praising God in a loud voice. Everything trembled with the praise. It was so beautiful. The King was so happy. I couldn’t see His face, but I knew it was Jesus."

Sabino awoke, knowing God had called him to preach. He went regularly to the Fishkill chapel to be spiritually nurtured by a minister. "He took me under his wing," Sabino says. "He’s still a spiritual father to me. He started me preaching; he told me I had a calling upon my life. I started my ministry on August 17, 1987."

Sabino knew he needed training in order to prepare for ministry.

"I started reading all the Christian literature I could find," he says. "Then I read in the Pentecostal Evangel about Berean School of the Bible. In one of my visions, I had seen a book coming to me from heaven with the word anointed on it. I ordered the Berean course, and the book that came in the mail had the slogan, ‘Anointed where you are.’ "

Sabino was the first student to complete Berean’s ministerial studies program in Spanish. He earned a bachelor’s degree with Berean after his release. Today he pastors an interdenominational church (Heavenly Vision Christian Center) in New York City. He started the church in four homes and now oversees 250 cell groups and serves a congregation of about 1,000 each Sunday. Through the Sabino Evangelistic Association, he travels across the United States and regularly returns to the Dominican Republic.


"Jesus is the answer," he says. "The name of Jesus is above every name. The apostle Paul says, ‘Wherefore God has highly exalted him and has given him a name which is above every name. That at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.’ Jesus is above drugs. Jesus is above money. Jesus is above sex. He’s above."



*Scott Harrup is general editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.