Today, one of Israel's biggest charities is an evangelical-funded group, the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which distributes US$30 million a year to different projects in Israel.
"We love and admire Israel -- we tell our congressmen and senators this, and we stand behind Bush," said Tipton, 62. "We won't let anything happen to Israel."
Merrie Uddin, originally from Detroit, was working in a Louisiana casino until a hurricane destroyed it last year. "It was a blessing," Uddin says, because the loss of her job led her to sign up with the Spirit of Grace.
Kristin Boettcher of Des Moines was in college when, she said, "The Lord got ahold of my life," and she found her way to the ship.
Jim Fotia, a Californian with long hair and a beard, said he joined the trip because he "felt the call" to come to Israel.
"I'm amazed at how much it's like southern California," Fotia said.
Despite the bureaucratic foul-ups that have kept their charitable cargo stuck on board, the Christian sailors said they've been warmly received at Ashdod. Workers have invited them for dinner in the port's cafeteria, and the port has waived some of its usual tariffs, Donald Tipton said.
"We had to be nice to these people," port spokesman Yigal Ben-Zikry said. "They're more Zionist than any Israelis I know."