The great maritime city of Southampton once called ‘The Gateway to the World’ is literally soaked in history but maybe there’s one story that stands out above the rest. On April 10th 1912, RMS Titanic the jewel in the crown of the White Star Line, slipped her moorings at Berth 44 and sailed into history for all the wrong reasons. Anonymous on the passenger list was a Christian evangelist called John Harper. Titanic was the finest ship the world had ever seen. She took two thousand men two years to build but four days into her maiden voyage she was two miles down on the ocean floor a thousand miles short of New York. Some of the world’s A-listers went done with the ship having paid the equivalent of fifty thousand pounds for the privilege.

Most of the first class passengers stayed at the South Western Hotel the night before they boarded. A train ride of just a few hundred yards took them to the Ocean Dock where the opulent liner was waiting for them. Among the distinguished group was Bruce Ismay, Chairman of White Star. Scottish preacher, John Harper had accepted an invitation from a church in Chicago to proclaim the life-changing message of Jesus for several days. He accepted the offer of a passage on Titanic’s maiden voyage where she was expected to smash the transatlantic speed record held by White Star’s arch rival Cunard.

While onboard Harper he spoke freely to everyone he encountered about Jesus from the first class restaurants to the third class cabins. Reports suggest that over 100 people were converted but most of them never lived to tell the tale. Titanic’s construction cost was an eye-watering £175 million in today’s money, ironically the same amount that was spent on the 1997 blockbuster that dramatically portrayed her ill-fated journey through the ice fields of the North Atlantic. Nowhere more than Southampton was the tragedy felt as deeply. Over a third of those who perished had addresses in the city.

When the ship struck an iceberg, the officers moved quickly to reassure the first class passengers. John Harper refused the offer of a place in lifeboat number 6, choosing instead to remain on deck praying with terrified passengers and crew offering his life vest to a man who angrily refused to listen to his message. As Titanic went down, a thousand people were floundering in the freezing waters, only six of them would be rescued. Eye witnesses observed John Harper swimming from person to person sharing the hope of eternal life. Eventually he succumbed to hypothermia and disappearing beneath the waves.

Four years after the disaster one the six people plucked from the sea spoke at a survivor's meeting in Canada recounting a conversation with the Scottish preacher as they both clung onto debris from the ship. He explained how he accepted the offer of prayer and that he was probably the last man to see him alive. He ended his emotional speech with these words "With two miles of water beneath me I surrendered my life to Jesus and became John Harper’s last convert”

When Titanic left Southampton, White Star listed the passengers under three categories, first class, second class and third class. Five days later a notice was pinned outside their office with the passengers listed under just two categories ‘Perished’ and ‘Saved’ Maybe the names of Rev John Harper and many who responded to his message belonged on both lists. They had certainly perished in this life but because of their faith in Jesus they were also saved. You may not be on a sinking ship today, although perhaps it feels like it. Jesus still saves people today.

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