TIJUANA — Jake Sellers is no stranger to isolation, desperation and hopelessness. Covered in muscles and tattoos, this intimidating-looking man was once running the streets of Las Vegas, fueled by an intense passion for street fighting and a penchant for armed robbery and drug dealing. A born again Christian, Sellers is now running the streets of Tijuana, galvanized by his intense love of people and a penchant for rescuing others in need.
Sitting next to his wife and ministry partner, Priscila, on the rooftop terrace of their home in Tijuana, Sellers remembers the day of his complete personal transformation. Sellers said he was in solitary confinement at a level-four prison facility at the time, facing three life sentences. Undoubtedly, his future looked bleak and in a moment of desperation, he decided to take his own life. Sellers uttered the first prayer of his life and decided to wait another 24 hours. If God chose to miraculously intervene in his circumstances, so be it, Sellers thought. If not, he would be hanging by his own bed sheet the next day.
And then something strange happened. Out of nowhere, Sellers was called to court the following day and his sentences were reduced to just five more years. During that time, Sellers was wholly devoted to God and determined to share this new hope he’d found with his fellow prisoners.
After prison, Sellers married his sweetheart Priscila, who joined him in a life dedicated to ministry. Sellers became the associate pastor of Coastline Church in Carlsbad, a position that would eventually lead him to serve at a Coastline-affiliated orphanage in Mexico and preaching at local churches.
During one such visit last July, Sellers and Priscila had an encounter that would change the course of their lives.
Sellers had just finished a sermon at a local church when a young man in attendance asked him to pray for his soul. Sellers said the young man indicated that he had recently been deported from the U.S. and that he planned to commit suicide that evening. Sellers urged him to hold on until he would return to Tijuana in another week and a half and gave the young man all the money in his pockets. Sellers knew they would be returning to Tijuana and could help him figure out a new situation. But before Sellers came back, the young man had jumped off a bridge, ending his life.
“Right then and there my wife and I decided that we needed to make a difference out here,” Sellers says. “So we started coming out to Mexico and opening up safe houses and rescuing families and rescuing people who were deported and people who were coming out of the prison system.”
Sellers said these safehouses provide food, shelter and opportunities for individuals with nowhere to go.
“We connect them with churches out here and we allow them to just get on their feet without being taken advantage of, and find freedom in every aspect,” Sellers said.
Sellers says that what people in the U.S. may not realize is that when a deportee is dropped off on the other side of the border, they become immediate targets. And with very little resources, they are often beaten, robbed or exploited for cheap labor.
As someone who has been transformed from hardened criminal to humanitarian, Sellers embraces any opportunity to redeem a hopeful future for any individual with a troubled past.
In addition to deportees, Sellers and his wife have rescued a mother and her three young daughters from sex slavery; a pair of teenage parents in the throes of heroin addiction; and an impoverished family from a chaotic, violent neighborhood.
“We want to take the people that are overlooked and written off, and we want to lift them up and watch them become something,” Sellers said. “My life was wrecked, ruined, completely destroyed — I was the epitome of hopeless. But even in that situation, there’s hope. Even when there is no hope, there’s still hope.”