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Gerald Derstine stands by the prayer house he says both God and the Devil visited as he preached to teenagers back in the 1950s. It’s a place he says many of them were “born again.” DL NEWSPAPERS/Paula Quam

Strawberry Lake: Christian Retreat and Conference Center celebrates 50 years of faith

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Strawberry Lake: Christian Retreat and Conference Center celebrates 50 years of faith
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Folks at Strawberry Lake Christian Retreat and Conference Center are celebrating 50 years of its mission this year.  

Nestled into the piney woods of the White Earth Reservation, the retreat remains a vacation destination for many in search of a Christian-centered getaway.

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Sprawling over 110 acres, the retreat can house 300 guests throughout its hotels, cabins, kitchenettes, RV park and tenting areas.

Owned and operated by Gospel Crusade, Inc. out of Florida, the retreat is known for its plethora of summer speakers.

“As Christians come to relax and recuperate in a vacation setting, they are also fed spiritually through speakers that we have every single night of the summer,” said Laura Upleger, camp administrator. “Some of the speakers have quite a following, so we get some of the same people back year after year. Others have never been here and bring new guests that we hope then return every year.”

The one person that has been there since the beginning of those 50 years is the retreat’s founder, Gerald Derstine.Now 85 and still spending the summers at Strawberry Lake, Derstine came to Minnesota in his early 20s.

He quickly began to follow in his uncle’s footsteps, working as a missionary for the Native Americans and Mennonites in the area.

It is in a small prayer house on the property where Derstine not only lived, but also says he began to build a relationship with local teenagers who “couldn’t wait for Friday night to get with Gerald Derstine and go to his house to pray,” he said, adding that supernatural events started happening there that began to catch the attention of the outside world.

“The teenagers picked up my spirit, and I was telling them they need to have revival like you read about in the bible; things should happen like they happened in Bible days if we meet the conditions,” said Derstine. “And so I knew that prayer and denying yourself of food was part of it. So we did that (for periods during) all of 1954.”

Derstine says in 1955, something happened that would “change the world,” as God spoke to him.

“Supernatural things happened. God spoke to us in audible words that I was going to be put out of the church,” said Derstine, who says it was spoken to him through a person on the floor who was in a trance unconscious.

All that came to pass.

After word started spreading about the reported miracle healings, close encounters with God and people speaking in tongue out at Strawberry Lake, Derstine says the Mennonite Church essentially banished him.

Despite his estrangement from the church, Derstine says he believed God had bigger plans for him, and that turned out to be the creation of Strawberry Lake Christian Retreat and Conference Center.

“God told me, he said, ‘We’re going to build buildings and they’re going to come from all over the world and they’re going to go fishing and we’re going to feed them,’” said Derstine, who had helped grow a ministry in Florida that built the Minnesota retreat.

As Derstine grew his Gospel Crusade ministry globally, the Strawberry Lake retreat also continued to grow.

In 1999, a large tabernacle was built and just a few years ago, a large addition was built with a cafeteria and office spaces.

Preaching the word on several television and radio programs, Derstine ran in the same circles as some of the world’s most famous evangelists, who then also made Strawberry Lake their vacation destinations.

The retreat’s featured guest speakers speak once in the morning and once at night; time in between is typically spent on the lake.

Volleyball, horseshoes, shuffleboard, pontoons, kayaks and fishing are available for guests who want both the family experience and the godly one.

Derstine’s daughter, Joanne Kurphey, is not only the secretary for the Florida-based ministry, but believes whole-heartedly in the spiritual affects Strawberry Lake seems to have on its guests.

“It’s so amazing to see how many peoples’ lives have changed,” said Kurphey. “It’s just so out of the way that I think people are more inclined to have experiences with God,” she said, adding that just a couple of weeks ago, her husband saw Jesus in the window of the tabernacle.

“People come out here and they always say, ‘oh, it’s so peaceful here,’ and I tell them, ‘that’s the presence of God.’”

Kurphey and Derstine say the retreat remains a place of healings and godly experiences today.

“You feel it when you’re sitting here — it’s where God is,” said Derstine, on why he believes God is so present in that particular spot. “Where there is love, where there is life, where there are people singing praises and praying and loving God, that energy is magnetized.”

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