Joseph Scriven was born to wealthy parents in Ireland around 1820, and later graduated from Trinity College.
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Horatio Spafford was a well-to-do American lawyer and Presbyterian Elder. Married to Anna, the couple had four daughters.
During the 1860s and 1870s, Horatio invested very heavily in the Chicago area in the USA, but unfortunately the great Chicago fire of 1871 almost completely ruined the family financially although Horatio still maintained some smaller business interests.
After the fire and other ongoing financial stressors, the family decided to take a vacation in Europe and England and meet up with their family friend DL Moody. A last-minute change of plan caused Horatio to stay behind while he sent his family off ahead of him by ship and it was planned that they meet up later.
Several days after his family left, Horatio received a shocking telegram which explained that the ship carrying his family had struck another vessel and sunk. Tragically, his beloved wife and four daughters had all drowned.
Understandably, Horatio Spafford was devastated by the loss, but there was some incredible relief a few days later when he received another telegram which contained just two words: ‘Saved alone,’ written by his wife.
Horatio jumped onto the first available ship to meet up with Anna, and on his trip there, he travelled over the same part of the ocean where his four
Further Struggles and God’s Work
The story doesn’t end with the reunion of Horatio Spafford and his wife Anna: the couple went on to have three more children including their only son Horatio junior.
Tragedy struck again when Horatio Jr died of scarlet fever, when he was just four years of age.
Instead of comforting them, the Spafford’s own church blamed them for the tragedies, claiming it was divine punishment.
The couple’s experiences, seem similar to what the Biblical Job had experiences: loss of fortune and family; restoration; judgement from trusted friends; and later rejoicing.
While Horatio and Anna were likely very upset and angry at the unfair judgement of people who were supposed to be their trusted and supportive church family, it spurred the Spaffords onto greater things for God: they established the ‘American Colony’ in Israel.
The group’s mission was to serve the poor, no matter their religion, and not to preach the gospel, but simply to serve. With this as their basis, they gained the trust of the local Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities in Israel.
During World War I the American Colony was able to support those suffering in Israel by operating hospitals, orphanages, soup kitchens and other charities.
The group became the subject of a Nobel prize winning book called “Jerusalem” by the Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf.
While there, the couple were blessed with another son, Jacob Eliahu, a teenager who they adopted. Jacob had been born into a Turkish/Jewish family.