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KINGDOM BOUND CHRISTIAN FESTIVAL FILLS SPIRITS WITH MUSIC, PRAYER, FUN

Mark Domowicz brought his wife, daughters and tambourine from Burt in Niagara County.

Russ and Kathy Armato were there with family members and a couple of dozen church friends from Liberty in the Catskills.

Katie Lurakis, 15, came with a youth group from Hammonton, N.J.

There were among the thousands of spirit-filled people who sang, prayed, listened, rode the roller coasters and appeared to be having a wonderful time Thursday, the second day of Kingdom Bound, the annual non-denominational Christian festival at Darien Lake. The event continues from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. today and Saturday.

Domowicz was one of more than 3,000 people who filled the festival worship tent to overflowing Thursday morning for a 90-minute praise service conducted by Randy Rothwell, a recording artist and worship leader.

"He's one of the best-known worship leaders," explained Domowicz, who leads worship at Hess Road Wesleyan Church, Appleton.

Domowicz joined in most of the songs vocally and with his tambourine. He has attended the festival for 11 years with his wife, Donna, and daughters, Faith and Crystal.

"I love Jesus, and I'm very heavily into Christian music. That's all I listen to," he said.

Rothwell has recorded six albums, and his music was familiar to most of those in the worship tent, but he later described his ministry as "singing with people rather than singing for them."

Leading worship in a tent, he said, is rewarding because people who might be inhibited in a church tend to "get lost in the moment."

"They get involved. They are less self-conscious and more God-conscious. You can see the joy, peace and relief in their eyes," he said.

In its 12th year, the festival has been growing steadily since October 1986, when rain, snow and near-freezing temperatures limited the crowd to about 6,000 teen-agers, most wrapped in blankets to keep warm.

Since then, the festival has evolved into a family event that will draw an estimated 60,000 people over four days, according to Margaret Pyrak, the festival's public relations director.

Participants this year are from about 20 states plus visitors from Germany, Australia, England and Trinidad. About 30 percent of those attending are from Canada.

The impressive attendance figure makes Kingdom Bound the second- or third-largest Christian festival in the United States. The largest, the Creation Festival in Mount Union, Pa., drew about 65,000 people earlier this year.

"We are not looking to break numbers. I want to be Number One for ministry -- that people are coming for the ministry," said Fred Caserta, Kingdom Bound founder.

"We have been praying for a whole year that God is going to change lives, and we are seeing that happen," he said.

This year's festival program consists of 60 musical artists, including some of the best-known performers in Christian music, and 70 seminars on such topics as Marriage and Family Relations, Single Parenting, Exposing New Age (Religions), Defending Your Faith and Creation vs. Evolution.

There also are special programs for children and teen-agers plus sports clinics for golf, basketball, soccer and volleyball. A Catholic Life Teen Mass is scheduled Saturday afternoon.

Today's program will feature a concert at 9:30 p.m. by Michael W. Smith. Saturday night's headliner will be Steven Curtis Chapman. Each has won Grammy and Dove awards for their recordings.

Katie Lurakis, a member of the Grace Community Church youth group from Hammonton, N.J., said she was at Kingdom Bound for the second time.

"I came last year and learned a lot about God, so I wanted to come back," she said.

She enjoys the music, the witnessing by the artists, most of whom are available to chat with people after their performances, and the park's exciting rides, Katie said.

Steve Atwater, a Barker native who serves as youth pastor at Katie's church in New Jersey, said Kingdom Bound has a lot of appeal because of "the great speakers who impact people's lives and the theme-park setting."

"It's an all-encompassing celebration of God," said his wife, Stephanie.

Veterans of Kingdom Bound since "Mud-Fest '92," one of the years remembered for unrelenting rain, the Armatos are attending the festival with 30 members of Liberty Free Methodist Church.

"We come to praise the Lord with other Christians. It's very uplifting," said Kathy Armato.

Her husband, Russ, said he has a hard time finding a deep spiritual awakening in a typical one-hour Sunday church service.

"But when I have four days to do it, I can get filled up with the Lord at different times in different ways," he said.

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