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Bar News - February 22, 2008

This I Believe: Service is a Privilege



I believe that to be great you need to be a servant. What do you think of when you think of a great person? Do you think of someone who is highly educated, wealthy, or powerful? If we’re honest, most of us do. 

Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”


These are beautiful words, but I’m not sure I understood them until an event several years ago. Through this experience I came to believe that service is a privilege.


I have practiced law for over 25 years. I have had the privilege of providing pro bono representation for people seeking asylum here in the United States. Through that experience, I’ve had the opportunity to hear the stories of very brave people who faced prison and torture because of their race, their pro democracy activities or how they worship God. It feels pretty good to help someone.


A number of years ago, I represented a young man from Zaire, now called Congo. He had been a pro-democracy activist. This resulted in his arrest. He had miraculously managed to escape and make his way to America. His wife and children were in hiding in the town of Brazzaville. I assisted this young man to obtain political asylum here. Months later, he showed up at my office with his wife and children. They were no longer in hiding, but now making a new life in the United States. He introduced me to them and thanked me. I told him it was my pleasure.


He looked at me, paused and said, “No, I know what you did for me, you gave me my life.” Then it hit me. It was I who was getting the most out of this relationship. Most people never get a chance to hear something like that. This was perhaps the greatest moment in my career. It was unobserved and produced no money, but it was as close as I’ve ever felt to greatness. I learned that it is a privilege to serve others.


So, this act of service on my part resulted in the highest compliment I’ve ever received. Jesus once told his disciples, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” I think he was telling the truth.


William Holston is an attorney in Dallas.


This commentary originally was broadcast on Aug. 29, 2007 on KERA, public radio and television for North Texas, and is reprinted with permission of KERA and the author.

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