Tucson magician Adrian Van Vactor did his first gospel magic show in 1994.

He was 20 years old, an enthusiastic newcomer to his Christian faith and delighted to share his love of magic and his religion.

Nearly 800 people showed up to Casas Adobes Church that day. Little did Van Vactor know then that he was embarking on a career path into what is loosely labeled gospel magic. In the nearly 20 years since that show, he has been on 40 missionary trips to 22 countries, including Communist China. In May, he hopes to take the show to Iraq.

"It gives me the opportunity to say things you would never be allowed to say at those venues," said Van Vactor, 38. "It's such an amazing opportunity to say: 'Hey, I'm not a minister or an evangelist. I'm just an entertainer, but this Jesus character has really changed my life.' "

Longtime Tucson magician Gene Collins spent his career playing venues in Las Vegas and Hollywood. These days he's mostly retired from magic and his full-time job as a barber, but about a year ago Collins migrated to gospel magic.

"It's clean comedy," said Collins, who performs with the gospel bluegrass outfit Bill Paul and the Southern Comfort Band. "People appreciate it differently than you do in a theater. We play music. We do a lot of gospel bluegrass, old gospel stuff that you normally don't hear. And in between I do magic."

Both men deliver a Christian message in their illusions - some messages more overt than others. Collins has one in which he pulls out a red silk scarf that he turns white to signify Christ shedding his blood to cleanse our sins.

"People like magic, but I don't want to overdo it with the gospel. I like to get one good message in if I can," he said.

Van Vactor and Collins are among a small circle of Tucson magicians performing in the gospel genre.

"By and large, most people who dabble in gospel magic just want to do something that will capture the attention of their Sunday school class or the youth in church," Van Vactor said. "Then there are the rest of us who are far and fewer, who really desire to ... shed light on Christ in a more secular view instead of a church view."

If you go

• What: Bill Paul and the Southern Comfort Band featuring magic by Gene Collins.

• When: 6 p.m. April 12.

• Where: Tanque Verde Lutheran Church, 8625 E. Tanque Verde Road.

• Cost: Free, but bring a dish to pass; this is a potluck.

• Details: 749-1606.