Interview with Ruth Elliott

By Brad Dupray

When Ruth Elliott accepted a work study job in the provost’s office at Stanford University, it was to help pay for tuition. She didn’t realize it would lead to a job in Washington, D.C., in 2001. The provost, Condoleezza Rice, was named national security advisor to President George W. Bush, and asked Ruth to join her staff there. Ruth now serves as deputy chief of staff for Secretary of State Rice. Ruth came to know Christ as her Savior at Mission Viejo (California) Christian Church and still considers California to be her home.

Did you have aspirations to work in Washington, D.C., as a young person?

I had no aspirations; it never even crossed my mind. The opportunity just came up and led me here. At the time it was offered I thought it’s such a rare opportunity I had to at least try it. 

Did you study political science at Stanford?

I actually studied economics. I was planning to go into the business world, probably in marketing or public relations for a consumer goods company.

Would you say you’re involved in politics or diplomacy?

I would define my role as public service; it’s definitely not politics. The National Security Council and the State Department are really apolitical entities. Because my role is operational (I’m not a policy person), I would say I work in the diplomatic world, but I really see it as public service. I’m here to serve Secretary Rice, the State Department, the president, and the country.

Does it occur to you that you’re working in a high stakes atmosphere, or does it just feel like a job?

It’s both, in a way. I don’t think you can ever lose sense of the importance of what you’re doing here. When you see on the nightly news things you’ve been working on, you can’t lose the sense that this is different than the average job. On the other hand, we come in to work every day like everyone else. We get to see everyone as normal people, even the high level government officials. They talk about their kids, what they do on vacation, and things like that. It’s kind of a weird combination, actually.

What was it that really made the connection to Christ for you?

I was raised in a Christian home and went to a Presbyterian church growing up. That laid a good foundation for me. I knew God, stories from the Bible, and right from wrong. It wasn’t until I went to Mission Viejo Christian Church that I witnessed a biblical community where people were loving each other and living transparent lives loving each other in very practical ways.

How did you get connected to Mission Viejo Christian Church?

Justin Horey is the person who brought me to Christ. We went to high school together and I noticed something different about him. He wasn’t overly evangelizing, he just mentioned it casually. What I saw in him without him saying it in words I thought, that’s how I want to be . I started going to church with Justin at MVCC when I was a senior in high school and continued to come back during the summers of college.

What was it that made your experience at MVCC particularly distinctive?

I had a new personal understanding of who Jesus is? That he’s real. He’s alive. I hadn’t understood and known the difference until I was at MVCC. I realized that I can know Jesus and the difference that makes in your life. I finally knew what it meant to be a Christian on the inside, not just the outside.

How did your time at MVCC prepare you for the rigors of working in Washington?

It rooted me in my faith and in God and in the truth so that when I am surrounded by outside, worldly influences I know the difference and am not drawn to them. It’s particularly hard to maintain your grace and humility here. There are a lot of big egos in D.C. A lot of people with a sense of entitlement. I can maintain a sense that I’m here as a gift and a blessing, not because of my own doing. That’s very different than the way most of D.C. runs.

Is there a disconnect between someone working in the “corridors of power” and having an abiding faith in Christ?

I don’t think so. For me personally, I would say it’s the only way to survive it, not to succumb to all these pressures. I’m lucky to work in this administration because there are so many Christians at all levels who set good examples. They’re not overt, it’s just by the way they live their lives and maintain their character. I know I’m lucky to be here in a time like this.

As I left for Washington, one friend said, “Promise me you won’t lose your spirit when you go to D.C.” She had a friend who came here and lost all sense of joy because she worked so hard. Now that I’ve lived here I’ve seen how and why it happens. You’ve just got to stay rooted in all the things you know are true.

What advice would you give to a young person who wants to be involved in politics, diplomacy, or public service?

On a practical level, if you are interested, you should get an internship for a summer and experience it to see if it’s what you want to pursue. You can learn a lot at a very low level just by observing and being in the environment. I also suggest you find one or two mentors within your field of interest older people who are in that field who can tell you honestly what it’s like.

What spiritual preparation should they seek out? The three important things are to be strong in your own faith, to be in prayer and the Word, and to be sure you have a strong community of friends for accountability.

What does the future hold for Ruth Elliott?

I have no idea. I haven’t had to interview for a job in more than 12 years! I’ve been offered these amazing opportunities, and they’ve led to great things. I don’t know if the next thing will be handed to me like that or if I’ll have to go out and look for a job, but I’m not worried about it. I detoured from “my path” many years ago. I’m on God’s journey now, so I’ll just keep trusting in him.

Brad Dupray is senior vice president, investor development, with Church Development Fund, Irvine, California.

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