October 15, 2015

How an Adventist Became a U.S. Ambassador

Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories by Ambassador Kathryn Proffitt based on a devotional that she shared at the Annual Council on Oct. 11. Her second story is “8 Lessons From My Ambassadorship to Malta.”

, U.S. ambassador to Malta (1997-2001); chief executive officer, Alumni Awards Foundation

People often ask, “How did you become a U.S. ambassador?”

I usually respond by saying that my appointment as the U.S. ambassador to Malta from November 1997 to March 2001 is proof that God has a sense of humor. He always selects the least likely individual so there can be no doubt that it was His miracle.

Make no mistake. It was a miracle! There can be no other explanation.

Let me explain how U.S. ambassadors are selected.

Some 70 to 80 percent of ambassadorial appointments involve career diplomats. After a long career, a few fortunate diplomats are promoted to the rank of ambassador. Since I did not have a career with the U.S. State Department, this was not an option for me.

The remaining ambassadorial appointments are personally selected by the U.S. president, usually from private sector business. Since the U.S. government has diplomatic relationships with nearly 200 countries, each president selects only about 40 ambassadors during a four-year term in office.

Now keep in mind there are more than 300 million U.S. citizens. Most of them will never in their lifetimes have the opportunity to meet a president, let alone get to know one well enough to earn his confidence. The odds of becoming a U.S. ambassador, based on statistics alone, are remote.

Because an ambassador is the personal representative of the president, those selected are always people who have earned his complete trust and confidence. Usually they have known the president for many years. Additionally, those chosen are almost always members of the president's political party.

For me, a little Miss Nobody from Arizona with no prior relationship to the president and without a career in the Foreign Service, there was no realistic chance of ever becoming an ambassador. Moreover, I was not of the same political party as the president? He was a Democrat, while I was a Republican.

Without question, it took a miracle for me to become an ambassador. But God is in the business of miracles?

Here’s what happened.

I was the only woman at this meeting of telecommunications executives in the White House's Roosevelt Room.

7 White Guys and Kathy

My educational background is dental hygiene. I had absolutely no experience in business or in telecommunications. Yet, in the early 1980s, through another a series of amazing miracles, I mortgaged my home and started a small long-distance telephone company called Call-America. It was one of a handful of companies that pioneered the competitive long-distance market. As a small group of Davids, fighting the legendary Goliath, we battled for years against wealthy and powerful Bell monopolies.

Although the war raged on for more than two decades, somehow competition managed to survive. By the time President Bill Clinton began his first term in 1993, there were more than 600 long-distance companies in the United States.

As one of its top priorities, the Clinton administration decided to update the obsolete 50-year-old Telecommunications Act. The White House called for a meeting to discuss the proposed telecommunications reform legislation.

That morning, Vice President Al Gore was to meet with the seven chief executive officers of the Bell monopolies. That same afternoon he scheduled a meeting to talk with seven CEOs from the long-distance industry.

Naturally, major companies such as AT&T, Sprint and MCI had a seat at the table, but four CEOs from the smaller long-distance companies also needed to be selected. Recognizing the importance of this meeting, the Competitive Telecommunications Association held a board meeting to decide who should attend.

After considerable discussion someone said: “Well, we certainly can’t show up at the Clinton White House with seven white guys. I suppose we had better send Kathy.” And so it was decided to send me, the only female CEO, to attend this historic meeting.

I did not have any illusions as to why they picked me. I was not more knowledgeable or more qualified than my other colleagues. As the only woman, I was simply the token. Sometimes it’s good to be in the minority, isn’t it?

The meeting was held in the West Wing of the White House, in the Roosevelt Room — just across from the Oval Office. Those who attended this first meeting ultimately became ad-hoc telecommunication policy advisers to the White House.

Over the next couple of years I had numerous meetings and conference calls regarding the telecommunication legislation. We worked closely with Vice President Gore and President Clinton’s domestic policy staff, but I never had the opportunity to meet the president.

To keep in touch with the economic issues facing the United States, President Clinton occasionally scheduled private dinners with business leaders. One day I received an invitation to one of these coveted dinners.

Telling the President All the Wrong Things

Meeting the U.S. president is an awesome and yet daunting experience. I felt a deep sense of responsibility because I was representing not just my company but also the entire competitive telecommunications industry.

I prayed all night before the dinner. I asked the Lord to give me just the right words to say to President Clinton.

Now, while I did not know what I was going to say, I knew what I did not want to say. Because politics in Washington is so divisive, I knew I did not want the president to ever learn that I was not a member of his political party. I was certain this would work against me.

The dinner included 22 CEOs from various industry sectors. Being invited to such a small dinner with the U.S. president was yet another miracle.

To begin, we went around the table, one by one, introducing ourselves and making a brief statement about our industry. Because I was next to the last, I had plenty of time to become nervous. As my turn neared, I prayed silently that the Lord would give me just the right words to make a good impression.

I started off all right. Following the lead of the others, I began by giving my name and the name of my company and industry. So far, so good.

Then, to my horror, I heard myself speaking the very words that I would never have voluntarily said. I announced to the table that I was not a Democrat but instead was a registered Republican. I could not believe that those words came out of my mouth!

After that I informed the president of the United States that I had not voted for him in the last election. It gets worse. I then told President Clinton that I was so upset when he was elected as president that I cried! By this time everyone was staring at me. You could have heard a pin drop.

Trust me, my words were completely involuntary. I had uttered the very words I never on my own would ever have said. I was horrified by what had just come out of my mouth.

Taking a deep breath, I nervously continued by saying what I had hoped to say before my unplanned outburst. I told President Clinton how impressed I was with the integrity of the White House during the telecommunication legislative process. I thanked him for what his administration had done to support the American people rather than the wealthy monopolies. I told him that I especially I appreciated how he had threatened to veto the bill if provisions ensuring fair competition were not restored. Because of him, competition had a chance to survive.

After a very long and awkward pause, President Clinton stood to his feet. Then to my surprise he began slowly clapping his hands. The president of the United States gave me a standing ovation. Now that was a miracle!

U.S. Vice President Al Gore officially swearing me into office at the White House in 1997.

I Didn’t Know President Clinton but God Did

President Clinton later shared with me how he hoped to bridge partisan gaps dividing the political parties. He longed to be the president of all Americans, not just Democrats. He said he loved hearing that I was a Republican who appreciated what his government was doing for our country despite our partisan differences.

In retrospect, I could not have said anything better. Although I did not know Bill Clinton, the Lord knew him well!

The Holy Spirit answered my prayers that day by taking over my voice just as surely as He had with Balaam’s donkey. I prayed to make good impression, and by the grace of God I did.

Also, because of my unplanned outburst, President Clinton never forgot me. He was curious to find out who this woman was and took the time to look into my background. He loved the fact that I was a woman who mortgaged my home to start a long-distance company. He considered it a classic American dream story.

After that fateful dinner I was invited to other events with the president and the vice president. During this time I had the opportunity to become personally acquainted with President Clinton.

Eventually, during President Clinton’s reelection campaign, I was asked to serve as the national campaign chair of Republicans for the Clinton-Gore team. As a member of the president’s senior staff I was included in campaign events and high-level meetings.

During these months I had the privilege of getting to know both President and Mrs. Clinton, as well as Vice President and Mrs. Gore, personally.

On election night, I flew with senior administration and campaign staff to President Clinton’s home state of Arkansas, where we waited as the election results came in. It was exciting to be standing just a few feet away, as President Clinton made his victory speech from the Old State Capital in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Shortly after President Clinton's second inauguration, he selected me as his ambassador-designate to the Republic of Malta.

Looking back, I now realize that for many years the Lord had been putting events in motion that would ultimately give me the incredible opportunity of representing my country as an ambassador.

As a little girl, I often dreamed of what I might be when I grew up. But becoming an ambassador, however, never once crossed my mind.

My story is proof that God has an amazing plan for each of our lives. If we surrender to His will, His plans for our lives will be infinitely greater, and more meaningful, than anything we can ever imagine. We can trust Him with our future.

You Have a Prestigious Appointment

In the U.S. system, being nominated by the U.S. president is only the first step. All high-level government appointments must also be confirmed by the Senate to verify the president has nominated a qualified person who is fit to serve the nation.

Senate confirmation is a very daunting process where every aspect of your life comes under close scrutiny.

I spent many months in Washington preparing for my new post and for my Senate confirmation hearing. Finally, on Nov. 6, 1997, I was unanimously confirmed by the Senate. I was officially sworn into office, at the White House, by Vice President Al Gore.

My service as an ambassador for my country was the highest privilege and honor of my professional life. But each one of you has been given a much higher, and infinitely more prestigious appointment. You have been called to be ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ!

You are not the personal representative of an earthly president or monarch. Rather you are the personal representative of the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Creator and Ruler of the Universe!

Let me read your ambassadorial commission from the Phillips translation: “God was in Christ personally reconciling the world to himself — not counting their sins against them — and has commissioned us with the message of reconciliation. We are now Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were appealing direct to you through us. As His personal representatives we say, “Make your peace with God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).