TOKYO — For most of the late 1980s, minister Mike Warnke started each day by compiling a list of reasons to live and a list of reasons to die, a loaded pistol by his side.

If the reasons to die ever outnumberd those to live, he told an audience at Atsugi Naval Air Facility, Japan, last week, he would have pulled the trigger.

The former Navy corpsman, now with more than 30 years’ ministry experience, was at Atsugi Thursday and Friday, telling his chilling story as a suicide prevention presentation arranged by the chapel.

Warnke, 57, said he was mad at God; hence the daily ritual.

But, he stressed, God ensured the first list always was longer than the second — the reason he’s still alive.

And his message to the Atsugi community, learned firsthand, is that he understands there are moments when everything can seem overwhelming.

But, he said, “Just hang on … nothing is so bad that you have to absolutely end everything. Suicide is not the answer.”

Warnke said in a phone interview that he uses humor to get his message across in a way that is palatable, instead of “banging them over the head with a Bible.”

He said his time as a sailor helps him understand the troops.

“That I was in Vietnam helps … I know a little bit about the military,” he said.

“It’s a reference to come from and I use that as understanding the sailors and Marines.”

Warnke said he told the community he understands stress in combat, in the military and what it’s like to be separated from what they’re familiar with.

After speaking Thursday, he said, he was approached by an audience member who “was actually going through a problem and was contemplating suicide.”

He said helping that person was kind of the payoff, that the person is seeking additional help from the command.

Warnke faced an additional personal challenge in 1992, when “Cornerstone,” a religious publication, published an exposé by two investigative reporters accusing him of financial fraud and lying about being a former satanic high priest.

“I can’t sit and say I was totally innocent, because I wasn’t, but I wasn’t totally guilty of everything I was accused of,” Warnke said. “I had to take stock of myself, my ministry.”

Warnke said he submitted himself to his Celebrations of Hope Ministries and has undergone a “restoration process,” documented on his Web site,

“I have found that one of the big mistakes I made is that I never had anyone to make me accountable for what I was doing or how I was doing it,” he said. “I found out how actually liberating it is to have people in authority in your life. I put myself through that process and … moved on from there.”

And that was his message to people facing problems.

“No matter how bad it is, now matter how broken your heart may be, no matter how dark your situation may seem, as long as you have options, you have room to maneuever,” he said.

“Once you decide on suicide, you effectively end your ability to exercise options and you don’t want to do that. You always want to leave yourself options.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now