By Rick Kern
1986 was a watershed year across so many cultural, technical, and visionary frontiers! Crocodile Dundee charmed his way into the hearts of millions on his “walk-abouts,” while Platoon brought the horrors of the Vietnam War home in a disturbingly vivid way. Top Gun’s Maverick soared into the cinematic stratosphere bringing Tom Cruise with him as Magnum, P.I., Cheers, and Family Ties rode high in the television ratings. And get this — people pumped gas for about 89 cents a gallon (ouch)!
The headlines were bursting with drama and heartbreak as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, the Iran-Contra Affair gained traction, and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station blew up releasing radioactive material across Europe in the worst nuclear catastrophe ever. Politically, among other things, Ronald Reagan traded swipes with Mikhail Gorbachev railing against Communism’s “evil empire” and the Berlin Wall (which came down three years later).
The Internet Mail Access Protocol was defined, which opened the way for E-Mail, and low-and-behold, IBM revealed the “PC Convertible,” which was actually the first laptop computer. Halley’s Comet reached the closest point to the Earth, during its second visit to the solar system in the 20th century, and if you watched it arc across the heavens from a new house, you would have just financed a little over $89,000.
Spiritually, however, 1986 also found the Lord on high entrusting a unique, bold, and faithful dreamer named Fred Caserta, with a vision to use the arts to bring people to Christ. And while the Comet Halley soared through the night sky that year, only to slip back into the distant darkness, Caserta’s dream, christened, “Kingdom Bound Ministries” (KBM), has remained brilliant and ablaze with the light of God since its creation. And though Mr. Caserta has since passed into the presence of the Lord, KBM’s flagship festival continues to bring multitudes to Christ, while strengthening the hearts of believers through the arts, entertainment, and outreach as it has for some 33 years!
“Our founders were just looking for a way to gather Christians in the region and bring together some of the top Christian artists of the day,” explains Dave Bruno, KBM’s Marketing and Communications Director. “The first year, over 6,000 people showed up.” The draw wasn’t music alone, however, for Caserta had partnered with the then Darian Lakes Theme Park, (now part of the Six Flags franchise). Thus, the Kingdom Bound Festival has offered a family friendly, fun atmosphere from the get-go, and has been held at Six Flags Darien Lakes ever since.
While the location hasn’t changed, more importantly, neither has the vision or mission of KBM. “Kingdom Bound Ministries exists to share the gospel through the arts,” says Bruno emphatically. “We do that through a variety of events. The Festival is our largest event of the year, drawing thousands each day.” He adds, “We continue to just focus on what worked and what we could improve on and continue to grow from there. We’ve seen the Festival grow, just in attendance, by drawing people from other countries coming literally from around the world. We’ve had folks from Australia, Brazil, other countries just in the past few years that have made the trip. That’s been incredible just to see that.”
Continuing he notes, “In addition to that, we do a number of different conferences throughout the year including multiple concerts and most recently, the Awakened Youth Conference, which was just a fantastic opportunity to point the youth of our region to the Lord.”
The Awaken Youth Conference took place February 18, 2019 as hundreds of teens from across New York, Pennsylvania, and Southern Ontario gathered in downtown Buffalo at the Buffalo Grand Hotel. “That was the inaugural event,” Bruno notes, “it was a fantastic two days and we’re looking forward to being back in 2020. We’re excited to be bringing it back, it’s going to be another impactful weekend.”
You almost have to believe that the Lord has raised up and appointed KBM distinctly to impactful weekends! They continually unpack a seemingly endless catalogue of inspiring programs, presenters, and performances to help the emerging generation power-up for Jesus. Their other events are primarily concerts and they will probably host as many as six shows a year. Groups such as Casting Crowns, David Crowder, Big Daddy Weave, and Mercy Me are some of the marquee ministries that have headlined in the last two years alone.
However, there are other outreaches as well. For example, Bruno reflects, “In recent years, we’ve put a really big emphasis on reaching the youth that attend. We do a special morning program now on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. We have speakers come in for youth groups and have special times of worship and breakouts.” He adds, “We feed them breakfast and it’s a great fresh element for the youth, the youth groups, and youth leaders that come.”
Of course, though the Spirit of God may deal more intimately in especially intimate gatherings, He has lit up countless lives through the Festival in an unprecedented manner, getting people alone in crowd as well. Accordingly, Kingdom Bound 2019 is shaping up to be a deeply anointed powerhouse as God guides KBM in the creation of its catalogue for this year’s event. “The lineup for 2019 is probably one of the best ones we’ve ever had,” declares Bruno enthusiastically. “For one thing, Rebecca St. James is coming back for the first time in years, it’s going to be awesome.”
“We do our best each year to try to bring the best lineup that we can, it’s something we really do with prayer and seeking God’s will for it,” he adds. “We put together a fantastic lineup for the youth this year. We’ve got David Crowder, For King and Country, and Skillet.” He goes on, “Then we’ve got some really fantastic worship groups coming this year. Passion Music and Bethel Music are both coming this year as Kingdom Bound is debuting for both of them. We’re really excited to have such a strong worship element on the main stage at the Festival this year. We think it’s going to be incredible this year to have both those groups! I have a few things in the works too, but nothing I can quite announce yet. It’s going to be a special year.”
Special is as special does, and possibly the most special thing about the Kingdom Bound Festival is that since 1986 it does lead people to find faith, hope, and love through its mission — and Dave Bruno gets that up-close-and-personal! “Part of my job is going through all the feedback we receive post-festival,” he explains. “I read so many different stories that people send us of testimonies from their time during the festival. I’m there as we see people responding to the gospel each night when it’s presented. They’re just blown away by the work that God does and so many turn to Him during the Festival.”
Continuing he adds, “So many folks come to Kingdom Bound and they find hope there. You hear stories year after year. People come to the Festival and they’re dealing with a serious situation in their life or they’re needing encouragement or something’s happening in their family or their marriage. Every year, we hear testimonies, like, ‘We were on the brink and something happened at Kingdom Bound’ or, ‘There was a speaker or a song, a person we met, and God used that.’ ‘Things turned a corner.’ ‘Things changed and they worked…’”
The Festival’s attendance now averages around a whopping 40,000 people over its four days. And because God has been so faithful to confirm His Word as it is shared by speakers, worship bands, and the artistry of various musicians — through a venue that is radically unchurch-like, the net effect is powerful and far reaching.
“We just want to encourage people to bring their friends and those that can use some hope or that could use the time just at the Festival there,” Bruno says passionately. “This is a great opportunity for outreach and to bring those who might never go through the doors of a church, but they will come to a music festival — they’ll come hear Skillet, you know, groups like that. It’s a great chance for people to invite others out to hear the music and hear the message.”
To learn more about KBM or purchase tickets, visit their website located at www.kingdombound.org. You can also call them at (716) 633-1117 or (800) 461-4485.