Changing the Future

By Andrew Gale, Executive Director of Global Strategy

I recently read Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi. It’s a novel with a fantastical plot, that if you sit in a specific seat in an old coffee shop in Tokyo that you can be transported back in time. There are rules you must follow for this special time traveling experience. For instance, you only have as much time in the past as it takes for your coffee to get cold, you can’t move from the one specific seat that transports you back in time, and you can only meet with someone who has also visited the café.

The most frustrating rule of time traveling is that no matter what happens when you go back in time, you can’t change the present reality. So, if your boyfriend leaves you for a job in American (as happens inthe first vignette of the novel), you can’t go back in time and change his mind. Or, I guess you could try, but the present circumstance of the person choosing to leave can’t change. This makes time traveling disappointing and, for some, even pointless. If you can’t change things, why would go back?

There are times I look back and wish I could change things in the past. I wish I could warn people about tragedy before it happens. I wish the history of missions wasn’t tainted with colonialism and oppression. I wish we didn’t use our wealth as a weapon globally. But I don’t have the ability to change the past. I do, though, have the ability to effect change that can impact the future. I have the ability to join with others and be part of something new.

There is a poignant moment in the book when one of the time-traveling customers emerges back to present time. As she is sitting there trying to wrestle with the reality of what she just experienced, she says that she recognizes she can’t change the present, but what about the future? The waitress serving her responds, “Well, as the future hasn’t happened yet, I guess that’s up to you…”

Later in the book another character remarks, “I was so absorbed in the things that I couldn’t change, I forgot the most important thing.”

Though we can’t change where we have been or even where we are right now, we can change where we are going. And we can do it together, as a global church.

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