The one year anniversary of the UK lockdown has passed, and as a country it feels as though we’re finally finding our way out of the coronavirus pandemic and can see a time in the near future where things may start to feel more ‘normal’.

However, over this last year, many have lost their jobs and the fear is that this number will only increase as the furlough scheme eventually ends. In response, the Evangelical Alliance is beginning a project on job creation, seeking to encourage the church to step into this area of need wherever possible. Work is an intrinsic part of human dignity, and chronic unemployment can lead to depression, addiction and domestic abuse. Our prayer is that Christian employers would join the dots and view job creation as a way to love their neighbours and a direct outworking of their faith.

I spoke with business founder Dave Linton, to find out how his Christian faith has shaped his approach to business. He was excited to partner with the Evangelical Alliance in our Job Creation Project and share his story. A passion for people and social change led him from church ministry to the world of business. He cares deeply about helping people find the dignity and worth bestowed on them as image-bearers of God. One way Dave expresses this is through job creation, the need for which has been exacerbated in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dave is based in Lurgan, Northern Ireland and is married to Judith with two daughters. They have previously fostered and one of their much-loved children is adopted. As I spoke to Dave, it was increasingly clear that he did not have a business persona’ and a Christian persona’ – they are one and the same. He is an encouraging example of what it looks like to live out one’s faith in the world of work.

Dave on the creation of Madlug

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Dave runs Madlug, a bag brand and social enterprise (the name stands for make a difference luggage’). For every bag bought at Madlug, a child in care also receives a brand new bag, because, as Dave discovered, many have no choice but to carry their belongings in black refuse sacks.

I was working for a church as a youth worker and they’d given me a house to live in which was bigger than my wife and I needed,” Dave explains. We said that maybe this would be a nice time to re-engage with foster care. During retraining, we were shown a video of a young girl saying that when foster children move, the trust or local authority don’t give them suitcases. Sometimes foster carers loan them suitcases but quite often their belongings are moved in black plastic bin bags. I remember clearly that night thinking this is wrong and I’m going to fix it’. That’s where Madlug came from.”

As Dave explored the issue further, he learnt there are 90,000 children in care in the UK and Ireland, with one moving every 15 minutes.

I believe that every human being has got huge value.”

Madlug is not evangelistic, but Dave believes that, motivated by his Christian faith, he can show the huge value and worth young people have as image-bearers of God, by offering them the dignity that they deserve.

Madlug isn’t a Christian ministry, but I’m a Christian leader and it’s grown out of Christian principles,” Dave explains. My own belief is that God created us in His image. Because of that, all humans have value, they have worth, and we see that through the good news of Jesus at the cross.”

I spoke to my wife saying I had this idea but she said we didn’t have any money. I said all I need you to do is support me – we’ll trust God with paying our bills every month. We had £500 at the time, but money has always followed the vision.”

Amazingly, Madlug have helped nearly 40,000 children since its inception five years ago.

Dave on Madlug’s surprising growth in the pandemic

As with many other businesses, in March 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic set in, sales dropped drastically. Nobody knew what was happening and everything stopped. Despite all the uncertainty, Dave decided against furlough.

If we say we value worth and dignity for children in care, that has to be something right to the DNA of our staff – I had to value our staff to that level. So we turned stuff on its head. Income wasn’t coming in to cover overheads at the time but we remained people-focused. Instead of losses we called it investments’. If you’re a boat in a storm, the last thing you do is throw your crew off.”

The risk paid off, and Madlug finished the year in profit.

God is faithful and we trusted Him. We made better decisions under that pressure as we trusted Him. COVID-19 has been a real challenge, but it’s grown my abilities as a leader. Whenever storms come there’ll be less fear now.”

Because of this growth, Dave was able to create more jobs and saw how this would both benefit his business as well as fulfil a need in the community.

The temptation could have been to put the money aside and save it for a rainy day. But we decided to reinvest. We created two full-time jobs. We also created a part-time job for our first care-experienced young person. We’ve made a pattern that works for her, and it gets her experience, employment and a track record.”

I believe in giving people opportunity. It has to be a commercial call in business – you can’t employ if you can’t afford to. But when there was opportunity to increase and improve what we were doing, it was a no-brainer

Dave on faith and job creation

I asked Dave how his faith influenced his approach to job creation.

I believe in giving people opportunity. It has to be a commercial call in business – you can’t employ if you can’t afford to. But when there was opportunity to increase and improve what we were doing, it was a no-brainer.”

As an employer, Dave’s faith influences his approach. He always wants there to be an element of discipleship” – regardless of the faith of the person he has employed. He wants them to grow and learn new skills in their time with Madlug and leave better than when they arrived.

Looking to the future, there are exciting plans for job creation at Madlug. In the hope of being able to provide more care-experienced young people with employment and opportunities to upskill, Dave is working towards crowd-funded salaries. The hope is to create a social impact through Madlug, without making decisions that will have a negative impact on business.

Sometimes it’s really important to learn what it is to have money and to be treated with value, dignity, and to be paid.”

The team have created a separate charity called the Madlug Foundation. If 500 people sign up to give £2 a month, that’s one part-time, living wage salary.

Not only that, but one person knows 500 people believe in them,” says Dave.

Dave on how the church can help

Dave now recognises assumptions he made about people in business when he was in ministry – assuming that people in positions of power always arrived at church in a position of strength. His advice to church leaders is to check in on those in business and show compassion for the stresses and strains they might be facing.

If we want to encourage and help job creation, we’ve got to understand the challenges and why companies aren’t doing it.”

Take-away

It was a pleasure to chat to Dave, and hear his wisdom on what it means to live out one’s faith at work, particularly is reference to job creation. What struck me most is how Dave understands the limits of his means, and knows that employing people beyond what Madlug can afford would befit no one. However, he is seeking to find creative solutions, in order to meet a need and provide more opportunities for others. This conversation is the first of a series of interviews I have conducted with Christians who have experience in and around job creation, and I look forward to sharing what others have to add to this conversation.

Look out for more from the Evangelical Alliance’s Job Creation Project coming soon.