NEW YORK — He was selling dope by age 11, eventually got hooked on crack cocaine, and wound up in prison twice. He could have been killed countless times and once, as he tells it, was even attacked by a witch. But the man who yearned as a youth to become a god of the streets by building a drug empire, is now a man on mission for God.
Dimas Salaberrios, in his 40s, pastors a flock that meets in a community center at the Bronx River Housing Projects, known historically as ground zero for hip-hop and for being infested with crime. He is also president of Concerts of Prayer Greater NYC, a multiracial and cross-cultural organization of pastors and churches believed to be the largest of its kind in New York City. Salaberrios was also among those who successfully fought against officials' attempts to bar churches from renting city-owned community centers and public school spaces for worship services. His family's supporting presence in Charleston, South Carolina, at Emanuel A.M.E. Church earlier this year also gained notable attention.
That is what the married father of three has been up to in recent times. Thirty years ago, it was an entirely different story, one in which, for all intents and purposes, he was an enemy of God.
In fact, Salaberrios succeeded in becoming a god of the streets, founding a kingdom whose foundation was based on a steady and startling income from drug and gun sales. His illicit web stretched from Queens, New York, to North Carolina, where he lived as a fugitive from the law after one day deciding while handcuffed to flee a disastrous encounter with his parole officer.
But when God intervened, at a point when he was literally fighting for his sanity and his life, Salaberrios chose to abandon his kingdom for the Kingdom of God. He threw away his crack, gave up on guns and stopped living with his girlfriend, all in an effort to live a holy life. When God gave him the ultimate challenge — to return to NYC and answer for his crimes, the former drug lord did just that. Soon, he was being invited to preach in foreign countries, found himself smuggling Bibles into China, and leading relief efforts in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Salaberrios' life of crime is chronicled in the Tyndale Momentum book Street God: The Explosive True Story of a Former Drug Boss on the Run from the Hood—and the Courageous Mission That Drove Him Back (August 2015). In Street God, Salaberrios (with Dr. Angela Hunt) offers a riveting account of how he went from being a determined and power hungry criminal to a humbled, bold and relentless minister of the Gospel. The book is an inspiring and sometimes surreal read, and one that Salaberrios said has been impacting lives.
"So many people are saying, 'I'm shaking at home while reading it.' 'I can't put it down.' 'Read it in three days,'" Salaberrios told The Christian Post. "One mother just told me she gave her son the book who's never read a book in his life. [He] read the book, came in crying and hugging her, saying, 'I'm going to change my ways, Ma, and be the son you wanted me to be.'"
Responses like that confirm for Salaberrios that Street God "is actually doing what it's supposed to do."
In Salaberrios' interview with CP, he tells how he initially became moved to pursue a life of crime, how his mother exposed him to faith in God, and of the harrowing encounter with evil that finally compelled him to take God seriously. The charismatic Queens, Jamaica, native, who credits men like Floyd Flake, Tim Keller, A.R. Bernard, and Andy Puleo with helping him in his journey as a believer, also shares how some of what he learned in the streets carries over to his ministry work today.