The Rev. William Kilby returned to Liberia last week after being in the United States for nearly one month. He returns home with a different perspective on the world, much as I did after visiting his country.

I first met William last April while on my trip to Liberia. He’s the administrative assistant at Ricks Institute, a k-12 grade school just outside Monrovia. William has a degree from the Liberian Baptist Theological Seminary. He pastors a church with an interesting name, “Chocolate City Baptist.”

Prior to coming to this country, William had been outside of his native Liberia, a country about the size of Georgia, on one occasion. He was displaced from his home for a while during the war and lived as a refugee in the Ivory Coast.

Coming to the United States was as much an eye-opening experience for William as my trip to Liberia was for me. I was surprised at some of the things that William marveled at, things we take for granted every day. For example, you and I become upset if there’s a pothole in the road that goes unfilled for more than a week. But William raved about our road system.

While in Liberia, I traveled to William’s church one Wednesday evening as he drove his sister’s car to his church. Only four members of Willliam’s church have cars. In one stretch of the highway there were as many holes in the road as there was pavement. The shocks on William’s car were worn out and I could hear them scrub as the tires dipped into each hole. The poor road conditions were due to the bombing from the war and the rains that come almost daily about five months out of the year. During the rainy season, William has to take off his shoes, roll up his pants and walk in ankle-deep water, sometimes deeper, to get to his church. 

With roads in conditions this poor, you can understand why William marveled at our road system. As we passed through spaghetti junction in Atlanta, you’d think he’d just seen one of the seven wonders of the world. Soon the smooth ride of the road rocked him to sleep, something he could never do on a road in Liberia.

The next day he traveled to Albany with me to visit a hospitalized member of my church. I was sharing with the patient how impressed William was with our roads. The man in the hospital had been transported the day before in an ambulance on the same road we had traveled that morning and he had an entirely different perspective. He said he complained to the attendant in the ambulance about how rough the ride was. In fact, he said it was the bumpiest ride he’d ever had. I’m sure being flat on his back contemplating his failing health contributed to his discomfort, but it struck me that each man traveled the same road but the two men came away with two different perspectives.

Among other things, our perspectives in life are tempered by our experiences, beliefs, attitudes, customs, and values. For example, what we eat has a lot to do with what we were brought up eating, what is customary. We develop certain palates for food based on what we ate as children and what we have since decided is good for our daily diet.

When I was in Liberia, I was shocked to discover that the Liberians eat all of the fish. That includes the head and I’ve even seen people eat the bones. One day at Ricks Institute, the cook was making soup out of fish heads. It was that day I was most thankful to have shipped over some canned food.

As William shared a meal here in the States with us, I told him that we did not eat the heads of fish. He asked me what we did with them. I said, “Well, when I was a boy we threw them to the cats. Now we just throw them away.” Not only was William surprised; he told me we were throwing away the best part of the fish!

It’s so easy to think that everyone sees the world through the same eyes as we do. If we take the time, we will discover that other people often see the world differently. Their perspective usually has value and even if we don’t agree with it, we can learn from their perspective if we take the time to understand it.

Next time I’m driving down the road on my way to catch some fish, I’ll think about William. I’ll remember the rough roads he has to travel in Liberia and appreciate ours a little bit more. But when I clean my fish, if there’s a cat around it’s still going to get the fish head. There’s only so much perspective a person needs in life. I’ll just take William’s word and the cat’s paw-licking affirmation that the fish head is a worthy meal.

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The Rev. Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie.

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