The legend of Job, embattled and long-suffering hero of the Bible, got a challenge in Washington with the trials faced by some of the 15,000 young Christians who attended Youth Congress '85 at the Washington Convention Center.
The District might easily have seemed a den of calamities for the youths who were here to celebrate their Christianity. They endured violent storms; explosions and fires in one of their hotels, and a power outage in replacement lodgings.
Confusion, delays and cancellations dogged their five-day convention. Nature and modern technology seemed to conspire against them, but some of them would believe only that wicked powers were the culprits. Yet, many of them left Washington Tuesday in good cheer, calling their convention a triumph over evil forces.
"These kind of things follow Christians all the time," said Joy Arnold of Owenton, Ky., of the series of mishaps. "We think it's the work of the devil."
Organizers of the convention, sponsored by two large Christian youth groups -- Youth for Christ and Campus Crusade for Christ -- said their purpose was to "prepare teen-aged and adult leaders to exert Christian influence within America's youth culture."
It became clear early in the effort that it would not be a mission easily accomplished.
The havoc started July 25, when the remnants of Hurricane Bob -- thunderstorms, fierce winds and heavy rain -- slowed the arrival of planes and buses bringing teen-agers from around the country to Washington for the convention that began on Friday.
Then, on July 27, explosions and a fire in the basement of the Washington Hilton Hotel displaced the 3,700 convention-goers staying there, forcing them to spend the night in 19 hotels without any of their belongings. Most of the guests were out of the hotel when the explosions occurred and none was injured.
As they prepared to return to the Hilton Sunday afternoon, the hotel was struck by another blast and remained closed through the week. But during a late-night shuttle operation that dragged on for hours, they were allowed to get their suitcases. One youth jokingly called his reunion with his luggage a "minor miracle."
Adversity reared its annoying head again on Tuesday, the final day of the conference, when the District's brief power outage delayed the arrival of many convention-goers at a rally on the Mall. Some were slowed by stalled elevators in their hotels, others by downed subway trains.
To many of the 15,000 young Christians who eventually gathered on the Mall, the power outage was no mere mishap. Some saw it as Satan's final swipe at their convention, which was crammed with seminars, workshops and a variety of ministers and gospel entertainers.
Paul Rock, 17, of Stillwater, Minn., called the power outage "another futile attempt by Satan to ruin something that's meaningful to youths."
Rock said he had left his sixth-floor room in the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, where he had been relocated after the Hilton explosions, and was on his way to the elevators when the hallway went dark. "The first thing I thought of was, 'Here we go again,' " said Rock.
Jay Kesler, 50, president of Youth for Christ, said, "Power goes off for Christians as well as non-Christians. I don't see anything unusual about it."
But many youths felt otherwise, such as 15-year-old Elizabeth Jones of St. Paul, Minn., who said she was convinced that evil sources had heaped misfortune on the convention. Jones, who was among those relocated after the Hilton explosions and fires, also said that the "constant distractions" throughout the conference prevented her from experiencing the spiritual growth she had hoped to achieve.
"It's supposed to be a life-changing conference," Jones said, "but it hasn't changed my life much."
More than a few youths, however, said that their convictions were strengthened by the hardships they endured.
Glen Reiland of West Chester, Pa., said he feels "closer to Christ" than ever before.
Said Kesler, "I think these kids grasped that the Christian faith means giving all you know of yourself to all you know of God."