by Tamera Lynn Kraft
Almost everyone has heard of the sinking of the Titanic, but few know the name of the man who would become known as the hero of the Titanic, John Harper. His last words before he drown in the ocean that fateful night were, “Believe on the Name of the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”
The sinking of the Titanic was not the first incident where Harper risked death by drowning. When he was two and a half, he fell into a well and almost drown, but his mother saved him in time. At age twenty-six, he was swept downstream by a reverse current and almost drown. At thirty-two, he was stuck on a ship in the Mediterranean that sprang a leak. But the Titanic would be the last danger of drowning he would face.
Harper was born to Christian parents in Scotland in 1872. He was saved at thirteen and began preaching to his village by the age of seventeen. In early adulthood, he worked at a mill to support himself while he continued to preach. At one point, E.A. Carter of the London Baptist Pioneer Mission heard Parker and took him to London to mentor him. In 1896, Harper started his own church with 25 members. Within thirteen years, it had grown to 500 members. It is now called the Harper Memorial Baptist Church in his honor. During this time, Harper married, but his wife died of complications after giving birth to their daughter Annie known as Nana.
In 1912, John Harper was invited to speak at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and boarded the Titanic with his daughter Nina and his niece Jessie W. Leitch who was brought along to care for Nana while he was ministering. He put six-year-old Nana to bed that evening not knowing the danger that lie ahead.
At 11:40 pm, the Titanic hit an iceberg. Harper went to see what happened and found out the ship was in trouble. He wrapped Nina in a blanket and directed her and Jessie to lifeboat #11. Although he could have joined them in the lifeboat since he was Nina’s only living parent, there was no indication he even considered it. He kissed Nina goodbye, and according to documentation, flares went off revealing the tears on his face. A well known photograph of the second class promenade, in which a young girl is seen holding her father’s hand, is believed by many to show young Nina Harper and her father.
What happened next is well documented by a few of the survivors. As the ship lurched, he ran through the deck shouting, “Women, children, and unsaved into the lifeboats!” The ship broke apart, and Harper along with many others jumped into the ocean. At this point, he had a lifevest on. In the frigid water, he swam frantically to people dying of hypothermia and led them to Christ. At one point, he swam to a young man and asked him if he would accept Jesus as his Savior. The young man said, “No”. Harper gave the man his life vest telling him that he needed it more.
Later Harper swam back to the young man and led him to Christ. The man then saw Harper succumb to the waters. The reason we know this story is because the young man was one of the few survivor snatched from the icy waters that night.
Harper’s orphan daughter was raised by her uncle and aunt and lived until 1985. She married a preacher and had two children. She didn’t remember much about that night, and her family discouraged anyone talking about the Titanic with her, but Jessie Leitch says they were about a mile away when they saw the ship sink.
Although the story is not told by Hollywood, John Harper was a true hero who gave his life so that others might be saved both that night and for eternity.