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Horatio Spafford's Life

In 1871, Horatio Spafford lived in the Lake View suburb of Chicago. He was a young lawyer with a wife, Anna, and fourlittle girls. In October of that year, the whole center of the city was devastated by fire. No one is certain how the fire started, but it killed hundreds of people and destroyed whole sections of the city.

All across town, people were wandering homeless and hungry. The Spaffords were deeply involved in doing what they could to help families in distress. But it was no short- term ministry. Two years later, exhausted from their work, they planned a trip to Europe for rest. But at the last minute, business kept Horatio in town. Anna and the four girls boarded a ship and left the harbor.

Late one night during the voyage, another ship rammed the steamer, which sank within twenty minutes. One of only forty- seven who were rescued, Anna was pulled from the water, unconscious and floating on a piece of debris. But the four Spafford girls perished. Anna sent a telegram from Paris to her husband: “Saved alone. What shall I do?” She remarked to another passenger that God had given her four daughters and taken them away and that perhaps someday she would understand why.

Horatio boarded a ship to find his wife and bring her home. When the ship’s path crossed the very point where his daughters had been lost, the captain called him to his cabin and told him so. Horatio, deeply moved, found a piece of paper from the hotel in which he had stayed before the voyage. He jotted down the words to “It Is Well with My Soul,” now one of the world’s favorite hymns.

Back in Chicago, the couple tried to start over again. A son was born to them, and then another daughter. Maybe the worst was over. But then, another tragedy: the boy died of scarlet fever at four years old.

Inexplicably, the family’s church took the view that these tragedies were surely the punishment of a wrathful God for some unspecified sin on the part of the Spaffords. An elder in a church he had helped build, Horatio was asked to leave rather than being taken in and comforted by a healing community.

In 1881, the little family left the United States to begin a new life in Jerusalem. They rented a house in the Old City section, with the goal of imitating the lives of the first- century Christians as closely as possible. Soon the family was widely known for their love and service to the needy, as well as for their devotion to the Scriptures.

Even today, the Spafford Children’s Center serves Jerusalem and the West Bank by providing health care and educational support to as many as thirty thousand children annually under the leadership of the Spaffords’ descendants.
When David Jeremiah recounts this incredible story in his book What are you afraid of?', he helpfully observes that Anna and Horatio Spafford suffered severe testings of their faith, but they did not blame God for their suffering. They knew He was in control of all things, and because God could not be defeated, neither could they. Their faith allowed them to learn through their testings and to use their pain to bless others and further the Gospel.

Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2013

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