For seven years, Gerald Derstine of Gospel Crusade, Inc., in Bradenton, Florida, inspired his followers with sensational accounts of miracles, mass conversions, and subsequent martyrdoms among Arab Muslims in Israel and the West Bank.

Derstine's supporters responded generously, contributing $2.8 million in 1994 alone to support the ministry and the persecuted church in the Mideast.

But in March, one of Derstine's Arab ministry leaders confessed, in the face of mounting evidence, that the reports were fabrications. The Gospel Crusade board of directors suspended the Arab leader and another individual in April. Gospel Crusade also withdrew from circulation literature and videotapes containing the leader's stories, including the 1993 book "Fire Over Israel."

MUSLIM CONVERSIONS? The 67-year-old Derstine, a former Mennonite pastor, first became known nationally as a speaker with the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship in the late 1950s. While leading a 1981 tour to Israel, he was approached by East Jerusalem resident Mohammed Rawidan, who began selling silver necklaces to Derstine's ministry. Later, Rawidan professed to have been born again and invited Derstine to become the "holy man" of his large Muslim clan.

In 1988, Derstine began circulating accounts from Rawidan and his associates that thousands of Muslims were converting in the wake of healings, signs, and wonders.

Derstine persisted despite early and repeated warnings from evangelical leaders in Israel. "He said that he believed the word of his 'apostles' over the word of the local church," said Roger Elbel, for ten years a Christian and Missionary Alliance missionary to Arabs. The United Christian Council in Israel, an umbrella group representing 23 evangelical churches ...

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