Hiding Your Light Under a Bushel

Alastair Tancred is journalist on the BBC News website – here he urges Christians in the workplace not to hide their light under a bushel and tell others – but in a way that that works for them.

It was a summer’s day in 1999 at Bush House, home of the BBC World Service in central London, and an important visitor was expected. Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s prestigious limousine and escorting black vehicles were given pride of place in the carpark. The leader of 190 million people was being interviewed by various World service programmes.

Accompanying her was a large entourage, including her principle private secretary, her private secretary, her foreign and home ministers, numerous other dignitaries and Abdul I am not sure exactly what Abdul’s status was in the complicated nature of Pakistani diplomatic hierarchy, but I don’t think he would have found it too insulting if I described it as lowly. He was in effect a dog’s body, there to photocopy important paperwork if needed or be on hand to provide tea and coffee. But regardless of his perceived junior status, Abdul was not someone who wasted an opportunity to better himself.

As the prime minister made her way from studio to studio, Abdul saw his chance and seized it. He decided to find out where the BBC recruitment office was and put himself forward for a job. Given the rabbit warren of corridors that constituted the 10 or so floors of the triangulated BBC Bush House building, that was no easy task. Even though he spoke only a smattering of English, Abdul found out where recruitment was located and was in the process of introducing himself to them when disaster struck.

The prime minister had suddenly received a call from Islamabad. There was a crisis in Pakistan and she had to return home immediately. She wasted no time in summoning her aides and was driving out of the carpark in her limousine before Abdul realised there was anything amiss. A search party headed by me (a journalist of the South Asia regional Unit of the BBC at the time) was dispatched to find him, but by the time we had tracked him down the prime minister and her aides were no doubt heading eastwards over continental Europe.

I tell this story because when I asked why Abdul he had gone away without leave he replied that for too long his talents had been unnoticed and that he was in effect hiding his light under a bushel.

Unlike Abdul I am afraid that at times that I hide my light under a bushel even though I know that as Christian we have a duty to tell others. The frenetic nature of the BBC’s online newsdesk – coupled with the shift system required for it to run it 24 hours a day, 365 days a week – means that it is difficult to get a meaningful opportunity to have in-depth discussions with colleagues.

There is simply not enough time to have proper conversations with my workmates – with no week’s rota ever the same and different staff starting throughout the day between 0600 to 2100. The constant demand for stories to be written, rewritten or updated means I rarely get an opportunity to talk about my faith. But maybe talking is not what I should be doing in any case.

Acting like a Christian – rather than speaking like one – may in fact be what I’m called to do.

“Tuberculosis and leprosy sufferers who aren’t Christians don’t want to hear about the Bible. They want to be cured first and then they’ll listen.” I remember being told this by a stalwart of The International Nepal Fellowship – a Christian medical mission – in 1990 when I worked for them as a visiting journalist to help produce their newsletter. I have found this advice to be true in all walks of life and not just among the sick and the dying. Most people would surely prefer to see Christianity in action first – and experience its transformative power – before receiving a faith explanation. To some extent I think this rule also applies in my current job with the BBC. I would far prefer to be kind or helpful to someone first and then explain how my faith motivates me rather than the other way around. But like Abdul I think it’s also important to seize the moment when it presents itself.

Matthew 5:15: Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.


  • Great point, putting the person’s need, concern and interest first, they’ll be much more likely to be curious what motivates you to be kind