Following the footsteps of his military father, FBCR member Mike Warren enlisted in the Air Force just after receiving his high school diploma. A few years and two tours in the Vietnam War later, Mike returned to Riverside with no job prospects.
Standing in long lines at temp agencies became an everyday occurrence until he finally landed a job working on an ice cream truck. His first week he sold hundreds of ice cream cones but only made $50.
Mike scoured for a better paying job, eventually spending the next few years truck driving before deciding on real estate as his next venture.
Despite his Catholic upbringing, Mike attended a local Methodist church with his wife shortly after they were married. It felt good to be back in church, especially since he had given up on God during his war years. Prosperity seemed to finally come to Mike – or so he thought. Listening to the claims of others that thousand dollar suits and Cadillac cars would bring him happiness, Mike ended up in much debt. His marriage of seven years fell apart along with his finances.
Divorced and depressed, Mike felt that God had abandoned him. He wouldn’t realize until years later that the reality was: He had abandoned God.
Mike turned to whiskey to dull his sadness, but it never quite filled the void. When he lost his job, the quiet nights drew Mike to mull on the tragedies of Vietnam he had never forgotten: the sound of the explosions, the piles of human body parts, the feeling of receiving news that yet another comrade was lost in battle.
“There’s a million ways to die in Vietnam,” Mike said. “There were people who got killed and injured and I could’ve been one of those but I wasn’t. Is that chance? I don’t think so. I know now that God was looking out for me.”
Two years after his divorce, Mike found himself in jail, arrested for another bout of drunk driving. On the day of his release, Mike picked up a newspaper off the floor – struck by a little ad about a new Vietnam veterans center in Riverside. It practically screamed at him. Mike tore out the ad and stuffed it in his pocket. A week or so later, Mike drove to the address and waited in the parking lot for an hour, watching people walk in and out. When Mike finally walked in, he would meet a man to be forever known to him as Saint Frank.
“Something’s wrong with me,” Mike told the staff at the center. “But I don’t know what.”
The staff sent him in to see one of their counselors, Frank, a medic who served in Vietnam, about 10 years older than Mike.
“You came to the right place,” Frank told him. “You feel like you’re all alone. You feel like you’re abandoned. You feel like life isn’t worth living.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty much it,” Mike said.
“Well,” Frank said, “You’ll be happy to know that everyone else who comes in here feels just like you. And we can help each other. Do you believe in God?”
“Well, I guess. Yeah, I do, but things just haven’t worked out so well for me.”
“Well, God always believes in you. We’re going to help you get back on track. The first thing we got to do is address the problem that you have with alcohol.”
It took six months for Mike to quit drinking. Once he did, Frank helped Mike find employment and brought him to a support group where other Vietnam vets met together every Monday night to share stories. Mike went for three years.
“Even if you don’t think you are a Christian, it doesn’t hurt to pray,” Frank told the group one day. “And it doesn’t hurt to go to church either.”
In 1989, Mike married a Redlands girl named Martha and moved out of Riverside. Her mom, Harriet, asked Mike one day, “Mike, you are a Christian, aren’t you?”
“Well, yeah, but I’m afraid I’m not a very good one.”
“Well, you know Mike, we’ll fix that.”
Harriet invited Mike to The First Baptist Church of Redlands a number of times. The day he finally came in 1989, Joe DeRoulhac had only been pastoring a few months, and Mike was greeted with a potluck lunch and lots of food. “What do I got to do to join up?” he asked Joe.
Soon after, Mike began volunteering at the church and in many nonprofits dedicated to helping veterans. He found Frank’s advice to be true: “The more time you spend helping somebody else, the more your problems will diminish to practically nothing,” Frank had said.
“I didn’t believe him at first but he was absolutely right,” Mike said. “The more I spent trying to help other people, the more my problems just went away.”
Mike attributes Frank to saving the lives of hundreds of men. While some didn’t make it – having lost faith and turning to suicide – still, many more regained hope. Mike believes that Frank was simply God’s angel.
“That’s why I do all of this volunteer stuff,” Mike said. “I want to be one of those people that God works through.”
-words by Amanda Warner, printed in the May 2015 issue of the Tapestry.