09. Pippy the Piano and the Very Big Wave

November 26, 2020Roger W. Lowther

During a season of Christmas concerts a number of years ago, I was traveling near the city of Kamaishi, Japan where the 2011 tsunami hit. Of 16,000 people killed by the tsunami, over 1,000 were killed in this town, and it’s not a very big place. Everyone there knows someone who died.

New Life Kamaishi Church was completely flooded by the wave, but miraculously the building was left standing, partly protected by a steep cliff that rises behind the church.

After the tsunami, wherever you went, you could see mud stains on the walls of the buildings showing how high the water rose that day. When the people decided to rebuild their church, they did something unexpected. They deliberately put a scar into their beautiful new wall. Pastor Yanagiya explained, “The scars of the people will last a lifetime, so true healing is only possible when we remember that the scars of Christ still remain in his resurrected body.” In other words, they built this scar into their building to remember the risen Christ, to remember that God does not throw out this world ravaged in the mud and muck of our sin but he redeems it. And the beautiful scars of Christ forever remind us of this redemption.

But there’s more to the story! When the people returned to their church, they found their piano upside down under a huge pile of mud and debris. And in case you were wondering, pianos and water do not get along very well. When a piano gets wet, you have to throw it out. It’s trash. It’s useless. There’s nothing you can do with it. But because of the gospel, because they believe that God is rebuilding this world rather than throwing it out, they decided to fix their piano…which is completely ridiculous! I mean, do you know how much time and money it takes to fix a piano that’s damaged that badly? It would be SO MUCH easier to just buy a new one. But instead, by fixing it, these people spread a message of hope to the people in their town.

There was a lot of damage on that piano. The body was gouged. The keys were so swollen they wouldn’t move. Screws were rusted to hinges. Mold covered the dampers and felt. They paid a team of piano technicians for over a year to work on that piano disassembling, cleaning, and repairing every single piece.

The most striking part of the project was the brand new music stand designed and filled with symbols of hope. Noah’s doves hold freshly plucked olive twigs. A rainbow flows from one side of the music stand to the other like five lines of a music staff. Scallop shells, fishing nets, and the city flower represent the city of Kamaishi. And in the very center at the bottom, there is also an anchor in the shape of a cross. This anchor is literally the foundation for everything else in the picture, the ultimate source of hope and rebuilding. On the cross, the wave of God’s judgment crashed down on Jesus, hurling him into the depths, into the very heart of the sea of our sin. However, he rose again, and now the cross represents eternal hope and new life.

This “resurrected” piano in New Life Kamaishi Church now reflects God’s promise for creation. The church hosts a “piano of hope” concert series, and musicians come from all over Japan to play it. The piano does not just bring hope to the people of that church but to the whole region, and many who come to these concerts hear about the Christian promise of redemption for the first time.

Personally, I think it’s an unbelievably moving story, so when I first visited this church I wanted to tell others about it. The next morning, while having breakfast with the musicians on our tour, I told them, “You know, I really want to make a children’s book about this story!” I’d never written a children’s book before, so all I could do was let the idea mull around in my head for a while until Sarah Dusek came to work with us as an intern. She already had experience illustrating a book, so it was a perfect match between her gifts and the ministry needs at that time.

The launch date of Pippy the Piano and the Very Big Wave is December 1st, so I invited Sarah to join this podcast to celebrate the launch!

[Interview with Sarah Dusek]

Pippy the Piano and the Very Big Wave is available for sale on December 1st in eBook, paperback, and hardcover on Amazon and wherever else you get your books online. The church gave us permission to make this book, because they really want people to hear their story. They fixed that piano not just for their own sake, but to bring hope to everyone who hears it. May this story encourage you as well, as it has already encouraged so many here in Japan.

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