The Jerusalem Prayer Center is located in a large home that was built in 1890, during the time of the Ottoman-Turkish Empire. Its history is connected with the family of Horatio Spafford,, who wrote the words to the song, “It is Well with my Soul”. Family members of both Horatio Spafford, and Philip P. Bliss, who composed the music, have visited the home in recent years.
After losing their fortune in the Chicago fire of 1871, Horatio and Anna Spafford gave shelter to many Chicago residents who had lost their homes. At the point of exhaustion, the family was invited to travel to Europe for rest. Anna and the four daughters traveled ahead of Horatio, but met with tragedy along the way. Several days into the voyage, their ship was struck by another, and sunk within minutes. Though Anna was found unconscious, floating on a piece of debris, all four daughters were drowned. Horatio followed days later, and when alerted that his ship was over the spot where his daughters were lost, Horatio Spafford returned to his cabin and penned the words to the song, “It is Well with my Soul”.
After the couple reunited and returned to Chicago, they were blessed with a second family. Tragedy struck again with the death of their son, seven years after the loss of the four daughters. In 1881, Horatio and Anna, with two young daughters, Bertha and Grace, led a small group to Jerusalem. This group eventually became known as the American Colony. The group lived in community, sharing their possessions and attempting to meet the needs of anyone who came to them seeking help, regardless of race or religious affiliation. They fed the hungry, opened hospitals and orphanages, and helped women begin cottage industries. In this way, the group gained the trust of many of the locals. They were joined by more than 100 others from America, Sweden, and Germany.
After Horatio died in 1888, Anna and the colony moved to a larger location that is now the American Colony Hotel, on Nablus Road. In 1904, Bertha Spafford married Frederick Vester, a German member of the colony.The house that is now the Jerusalem Prayer Center was the home where they lived for 25 years, raising their six children. Anna and the Bertha, continued to lead the American Colony’s philanthropic efforts through harsh, troubled times in Jerusalem. The hardships of war caused great suffering in Jerusalem and the American Colony fed more than 2000 people a day in a soup kitchen, and treated enemy soldiers side-by-side in their hospital facilities.
In 1930, Lewis Larsson took possession of the house, declaring that he believed the house would someday be a house of prayer. It has been a house of prayer three times since that declaration. Since Mr. Larsson was the Counsel General for Sweden to Jerusalem, his home became the Swedish Consulate. During the war for Israel’s independence, the house on Nablus Road was on the front line between opposing forces.
In 1969, the Larsson family sold the house on Nablus Road to the Baptist Convention in Israel where it became a student center between the two campuses of the Hebrew University. The property is unique in that it is located on the line between east and west Jerusalem. At this time, it was known as “The Jerusalem House”.
The Jerusalem House was a center of activity for Arab and Jewish students from the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University and for students from St. George’s School across the street. Students from Hebrew University continue to visit the building today, spending time in prayer. In the mid 1970’s the building was a House of Prayer for Arab / Jewish Reconciliation. In the 1980’s the New Testament Research Library was instituted on the second floor and another organization used the first floor as a training center.
In 2007, a team of people prayed throughout the country, and then over the Nablus Road property, seeking God’s direction for the use of the house on Nablus Road. They did not discuss how they felt God was leading until the end of their week of prayer. Their recommendation was unanimous that God wanted the building to be a house of prayer, again. Extensive repairs to the property began in 2008 and in August of 2008, the Jerusalem Prayer Center began to receive visitors.
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