CONWAY – Years ago, while working at a tire shop in Pine Bluff, Hugh Austin noticed a man wearing a lapel pin signifying that he was a Christian.
Austin was intrigued. He knew the man, and last time he spoke with him, the man was not a believer. Excited at the prospect that the man had been saved, he asked the man about the pin he was wearing.
In so many words, the man told Austin, “Oh, that? It just helps me sell more insurance.”
The man’s response couldn’t have been more foreign to Austin and his philosophy of faith and business – which is one and the same: “Just do right” (gleaned from former Arkansas Razorback head football coach Ken Hatfield) and “prove it everyday.”
Austin, a member of Woodland Heights Baptist Church, Conway, who for the past two and a half decades has owned and operated Austin Brothers Tire and Service in Little Rock, and later Conway, is the 2019 Arkansas Baptist News Baptist Business leader of the Year.
“To me Hugh Austin … epitomizes the term ‘Christian businessman,’” said Joe Howerton, a member of Woodland Heights Baptist Church, Conway, who nominated Austin for the recognition.
“Any mechanically challenged individual – of which I am one – be they male, female, old or young … can rest assured that they are dealing with a man of integrity – a Christian man,” said Howerton. “Through this man, people are blessed and God is honored.”
“I don’t want people to be shocked when they see me involved in ministry,” said Austin. “It shouldn’t be a surprise.
“Every decision should be based off of Christian values. I don’t know any other way of thinking,” he said.
Austin’s father was a Southern Baptist pastor and his mother a schoolteacher. His family moved up and down Highway 67 throughout his childhood and adolescent years as his father served various churches across Arkansas.
After a handful of years in his late teens and early 20s when he fell away from God, Austin became serious about his walk with Christ again in his mid-20s.
About 25 years ago, Austin got involved with Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). He and his wife, Wrenetta, felt God calling them to Conway, where both of them had grown up, so Wrenetta could be involved in a women’s BSF group based there.
In order to allow the Austins to relocate, God led Austin to a new job in Conway. Eventually, God opened the door for Austin to open his own shops.
Automotive repair and tire shops don’t always have the best reputation for honest business practices. Most people don’t work on their own vehicles today, nor would many know how to if they had the time or desire to do so. This has led to poor experiences for many, including being taken advantage of by shops that know they are dealing with people who often don’t know any better.
These stereotypes and expectations are part of why Austin Brothers Tire and Service has developed an avid customer base over the years.
Informed by a Christian worldview and deep faith, Austin made the decision a long time ago that he, and his business, would treat people right and that would be all the advertising they would need.
Unlike the Pine Bluff man who wore the Christian lapel pin to “sell more insurance,” Austin aims each day to walk with Christ and let his actions speak to his convictions. It’s likely no coincidence that, multiple mechanics who work in Austin Brothers’ Conway shop made professions of faith in Christ in the past year.
“My wife and I pray before we leave the house every morning, ‘God place our steps today. Protect our family. Draw my children and their children, and us, to a closer walk with you today. Help us not to be impacted by the world today. Let us see Satan’s attacks and deal with them – You help us do that (and) heal those that are ill. … Protect our men (shop mechanics), keep us from making mistakes,’” said Austin.
“This is our mission field,” said Austin. “Everybody who comes in that door, they don’t come in here because their life is going well, they come in because they have a problem,” he said.
Austin said that many of the people that he and Wrenetta pray for are customers, many of whom who have become like family to them over the years.
A few years ago, Austin became involved with a local non-profit ministry called Project 3:27. Named for Proverbs 3:27 (CSB), “When it is in your power, don’t withhold good from the one to whom it belongs,” the ministry’s main focus is finding vehicles that can be repaired and made road worthy in order to donate them to those in need across central Arkansas.
Since its inception, Project 3:27 has donated nearly 50 vehicles. Austin’s role includes accessing incoming vehicles that have been donated and either repairing them or, for larger jobs including transmission and/or engine rebuilds, sending them on to other ministries that can repair them, including Renewal Ranch in Houston.
One of Austin’s “greatest joys,” is BSF, where he currently serves as a third and fourth-grade children’s leader.
“That hour-and-a-half with those children on Monday night … is a big deal for me,” said Austin. “It’s a ministry totally outside of the church. Many families have been changed because of that ministry.”
Austin is also involved with a men’s BSF group.
“Men that might not go to church on Sunday morning, might come with their buddy over to that. You know, if you start studying God’s Word, and you start doing it seriously, its going to change your life,” said Austin. “Some of the most amazing friendships that I have developed over the past 25 years have been in men’s Bible Study Fellowship.”
“Hugh is a great man. He is a discipler of young men,” said Larry White, senior pastor of Woodland Heights Baptist Church, Conway. “His business is kind of like a little coffee shop (or) town square. People go in there just to hang out, just to be around him.
“He is kind and gracious and everything he does he does with excellence,” said White. “He is an advocate for the church there and for the kingdom. … In fact, a family in our church is here because Hugh loved them and shared the gospel with them.
“I can’t say enough about Hugh Austin,” said White.
While some businesses advertise their Christian values, Hugh Austin’s goal is for himself and his business to walk the talk.
“Keep doing the right thing over and over and over again and don’t count the cost,” said Austin.
Contact Caleb Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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