In the murky darkness of the ocean bottom, shrouded in mystery and rusticles, Titanic lives out her days — distant, but not forgotten. The serenity and order that surrounds her belies the great tragedy that sent this majestic ship to its final resting place. A cup standing on an upright washstand and neatly stacked china dishes juxtaposed with twisted and torn metal — there is a certain oddity to it all. Yet, it’s the more personal items that causes one to take pause. A porcelain doll, a handheld mirror, a pair of shoes — each point toward the stories of more than 1500 souls lost at sea. If you listen closely, you can still hear their tales, and in your spirit, you can feel the echo of an eternal question — who would I be in a moment such as this?
Among those select individuals who have made the intrepid voyage to Titanic’s hallowed grave, there is a legend that the grey lady (as the ship is so loving called) grabs hold of your heart and haunts your memories. It’s a sentiment shared by so many who have taken the time to delve into the depths of the tragedy. Titanic, it seems, has a singular way of transcending time and space. The stories are as fresh and raw today as they were a hundred years ago. We can pour over the records of the Senate inquiry and first-hand accounts of survivors, and we can still feel the angst of the unknown, the terror of being beyond hope of rescue, and the agony of the slowness of word to come about the fate of loved ones. In the mind’s eye, we can still look into the eyes of an overwhelmed ship’s officer, feel the slipping grasp of a loved one’s hand as the lifeboat begins to lower, and hear the last strains of music from a band that played on to the very end. And in all of these memories, we are drawn to consider how different or alike we would be to any of them. Would such a crisis as this find us to be a hero or a coward?
We probably all hope we would be able to summon some untapped reserve of inner fortitude, that we might leave a legacy of heroism. Upon Titanic’s tragic stage, many stories of bravery and resolve have found a bit of recognition. Yet, among the most inspiring is the rarely told story of a humble man who made perhaps the greatest impact in the most critical hours of that fateful night.
Having been invited to preach at the Moody Church in Chicago, the Reverend John Harper was sailing from Great Britain aboard Titanic. He was accompanied by his 6-year-old daughter affectionately known as Nana. It isn’t difficult to imagine what a magical trip this must have been to this widower and his child. Even traveling second class, they would have experienced luxury far beyond that of their workaday lives. It would have been a dream come true, a cherished memory to be fondly recalled for years to come, had it not been for that iceberg.
In the harrowing hours of April 15th, God called Reverend Harper to service. Lovingly kissing Nana and placing her safely into a lifeboat, John reported for a most sacred duty, saving the souls of Titanic. Survivors would later recount seeing him, first on the main deck and then in the frigid waters, resolutely tending to the spiritual needs of others. Echoing Acts 16:31, he is said to have cried out, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved” as he swam from victim to victim. And, in perhaps one of the most tender moments of his final hours, Harper gave his own lifejacket to another man who was nearly in shock from the cold and would eventually go on to lead him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. History would go on to record that this man, one of only six that were rescued from that water that night, was one of John Harper’s final converts. More than 1500 lives were lost that night, but the Lamb’s Book of Life records the names of those who were eternally saved because of one man’s faithful commitment to the Gospel.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). John Harper was asked to make the ultimate sacrifice during one of history’s most heartrending moments. Though we may never find ourselves in such dire circumstances, if we were truly honest with ourselves, we could look around our own lives right now and see people who are perishing as well. Maybe they’ve lost all hope and are about to succumb to frigid despair. Maybe their life seems like a ship that is sinking into the watery abyss. Just like John Harper, we need to realize that we hold the one thing that can bring them to true safety — the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The question is, will we have the courage to sacrifice our own comfort and lives to save them? Will we be John Harpers in our own families, communities and world?
Who can you think of who needs to see the light of the Gospel in the starless sky of their life, and how can you extend a hand of hope to them today?
Christine Beebe is the scheduling producer for an international Christian radio broadcast. In her spare time, she enjoys travel, photography, social media, history/archaeology and all things Titanic. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.