This article was written by Tyler Hoffpauir, Baptist Collegiate Minister for Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.
Being the Collegiate Church Mobilizer for the Metro New York Baptist Association (MNYBA) involves helping churches reach over 80 college campuses with over one million students in a city with over eight million people. This is a big job description for a man who attended the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM), a city with a population of 9,000. Austin West’s journey to New York City (NYC) has been a series of faithful steps.
West graduated from high school in Desoto, Texas but grew up playing travel baseball in Arkansas and even spent a few years of high school in Little Rock. One of his travel coaches recruited him to play at UAM. Once there, he got involved with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM). West recalls a significant encounter at the BeOne BCM statewide conference in 2011. Brandon Doyle, a minister to Muslim people groups in New York City, spoke about the lostness in New York.
“I had always had a personal interest in New York City, but that conference is where God broke my heart for the city and started a missional passion to reach the students and neighborhoods of New York,” he said.
Eventually, West came on staff as the assistant campus minister at the UAM BCM. Phillip Slaughter, who currently serves as Campus Minister at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, was the campus minister at UAM then.
Slaughter remembers, “I liked Austin from the moment I met him when I arrived at UAM, and he was on the leadership team at the BCM. His love for Jesus was immediately evident.” Slaughter noticed many traits back then that he believes still help West such as his ability to see everyone as a friend, accept correction with humility, and buy into the disciple making culture Slaughter was building at UAM. West remembers this culture as well.
“Phillip saw in me and developed in me a passion and ability to strategically structure ministry centered around discipleship. This approach is at the heart of everything we are doing in NYC. It’s our desire to see students walking, living life, and studying Scripture with leaders from local churches all over the city.”
As Austin and his wife Haley’s passion grew, they made the step of faith to move to New York City in 2016. In the beginning, their vision was to join and support a local church plant in New York while working secular jobs. After a few months, Austin connected with the leaders at MNYBA and began ministry to collegians. By 2019 he was serving as the Collegiate Church Mobilizer for the city. He also serves as Community Pastor for Connection Church in Queens. West founded The Commons, a ministry to collegians with the goal of helping students find Gospel-centered community.
West hasn’t forgotten his Arkansas Baptist roots. Since 2019 he has hosted four mission teams from Arkansas as well as two students as long-term interns.
“Students from Arkansas are always a breath of fresh air. It is really fun to see worlds collide and for students who are no different than I was eight years ago, to catch similar visions of what it would be like to follow God in ministry to a place like NYC,” West said.
Most recently, students from UAM’s BCM served with The Commons during their Christmas break. They spent the week worshipping, prayer walking college campuses, serving through coat drives and coffee giveaways in the community, and talking with those who they met along the way and inviting them to The Commons.
“Working with Austin was a great experience just because you get to see how God is moving through the ministry he has been given. New York is probably one of the most strategic mission fields in the world and to even serve the smallest amount with him there was awesome,” said Cade Thompson, a senior at UAM.
Three more teams from Arkansas are scheduled to serve with The Commons in 2022. If you or your church would like to consider serving college students in NYC then contact Austin via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow the Commons on Instagram at instagram.com/Commonsnyc.