Today’s Word from Minister of Music Karl Olsen…

Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer and Presbyterian lay leader in Chicago, who had invested heavily in real estate on Lake Michigan. A devout Christian, one of his close friends was the evangelist Dwight Moody, founder of the Moody Bible Institute. Spafford was married to Anna, and together they had four daughters.

Tragedy struck the family twice, as their four-year-old son had been lost to illness shortly before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Then the fire itself destroyed most of his real estate holdings and their financial situation was in shambles after the panic of 1873. The family had planned to travel to Paris, (and Dwight Moody evangelizing there) and it was decided they could still use the trip, and that Anna and the girls would travel ahead of Horatio while he finished with some financial issues in Chicago. He planned to follow shortly after them.

The SS Ville du Havre was a converted French steamship, also with sails, and made regular trips between New York and France. Anna and the girls set forth for their voyage on November 13. In the early morning hours of November 22, the Ville du Havre collided with the bow of a Scottish clipper Loch Earn, was nearly broken in half and sank in 12 minutes. In the panic of the collision, only a few life boats were launched and 226 passengers and crew were lost. Anna was rescued, unconscious and floating on a plank, but all four of the Spafford daughters perished. Nine days later, Anna reached Cardiff, Wales on an American cargo ship, after the Loch Earn also sank, and telegraphed her husband, “Saved alone. What shall I do?”

Upon receiving the cable, Spafford boarded a vessel for Europe to bring Anna home. During the crossing, he was summoned to the captain’s cabin when they reached the approximate spot where the Ville du Havre rested three miles below with his daughters. He would later write to a friend the he didn’t think of his daughters there, but “safe, folded lambs” in God’s loving arms. During that voyage, he would write the words to the hymn, It Is Well with My Soul, with words reflecting his deep faith and assurance of God’s presence, even “when sorrows, like sea-billows roll.”

Their story doesn’t end there. Returning to Chicago, they resumed life, with three more children born. Tragically, the young son would be lost to scarlet fever. Through all this they both became ever more convinced of God’s love for all children, no matter their circumstances. In 1881 they moved to Jerusalem and established An American Colony, not to proselytize but following Jesus’ commands, to provide shelter and care for people of all backgrounds, providing relief from poverty, sickness and other distress.

Horatio died in 1888, but Anna carried on through her grief, and with her daughter, Bertha, established a shelter for those who had experienced shipwrecks in their lives. During World War I Bertha helped set up soup kitchens for refugees, and hospitals for wounded soldiers, from all sides of the conflict.

Meeting a young mother and child, and Bedouin father traveling to Jerusalem by donkey, Bertha took them in. When the mother died that night, she was asked to care for the child. With that child began a children’s hospital, open to all in need, regardless of nationality or faith. The hospital begun that day continues now as the Spafford Children’s Center in East Jerusalem, helping “poor and disadvantaged Palestinian children and families learn, grow, and thrive, through educational, and psycho-social support.” To learn more about the Spafford Center, Click HERE.

We can’t minimize the difficulty and trauma of this pandemic time, but it is good to know that “though trials should come,” good can arise from trying situations. Indeed, “it is well with my soul.”

Enjoy the hymn. Click HERE to listen.

Lyrics by Horatio Spafford, music by Philip Bliss (ELW #785)

Karl Olsen