By Jessica Connor
COLUMBIA – When Meagan Rogers was 14 years old, she lost her mother to ovarian cancer. In that moment, her world was forever changed. The solid foundation that had been her life began to crumble; her father had trouble taking care of a teenager by himself. She found herself beginning a cycle of “shuttling” – home to home, relative to relative.
Eventually, Rogers wound up on a farm helping to raise cattle and stacking hay bales as tall as she was. Her grades, which before had been strong, began to slip. She was oversensitive and had trouble coping.
Then God stepped in.
Rogers began to attend Shiloh United Methodist Church in Antreville, near Anderson, and grew close to Pastor Herb Franklin and his wife, who told her about Epworth Children’s Home. Immediately, her interest was piqued.
“They said it was awesome, a good school, and that I could make my own room up,” Rogers recalled.
For a teenager with no space of her own, who was bunking in a tiny room with three or four other people, it sounded divine.
And so, when she was 16, Rogers moved to Epworth. There she began the process of rebuilding her life – a process that ultimately landed her more than $30,000 in college scholarships and a spot in Columbia College’s acclaimed Honors Program.
The rebuilding started gradually. At Epworth, for the first time since her mother died, she regained what she calls a “normal” childhood. Rogers lived in a cottage with other girls her age, and she and her roommates would head to the dining hall together or to the library. She got a part-time job at Papa John’s Pizza. She could be a regular teenager.
She attended a public school, Dreher, and happily found herself at a school with a thriving and well-funded theater department. Soon, she was performing in front of crowds in plays like “Rumors” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (in the lead role), and she won an award at Winthrop for performing. She also found another mentor in Jeannette Arvay-Beck, the drama teacher at Dreher. Arvay-Beck had also lost her mother when she was young, and she became another source of positive encouragement for the young woman.
With Rogers’ newfound confidence came the diligence to make good grades and turn her life around.
The summer after her junior year, diaconal minister Laurie Brandes, who is the minister of higher education and youth at Epworth and also facilitates attendance at Asbury Hills Camp and Retreat Center, told Rogers about Senior High Leadership Camp there. Rogers decided to go. There, she relished the fresh air, the swimming, the tree climbing and mountain climbing. And she started paying attention to the devotions, too.
“Before, I would go to church, but it was not on my to-do list,” Rogers said. “I believed because my mom believed. It was something I had to do.”
But at Asbury Hills, something clicked. And on the last night of camp, at the worship service, she was startled by her powerful reaction to the candles, deep prayers and beautiful music. Something opened in her. God became a friend that night in a way she had never experienced before.
“I thought, ‘Whoa, I get it now!’” Rogers said, and from then on, she turned her life over to Christ.
She spent her senior year diligently striving for two things: Achieving a college scholarship and deepening her growth as a Christian. She got rid of some negative influences, like an ex-boyfriend, and made some new friends. Everything in life had fresh meaning, fresh purpose.
“I cracked into the Bible,” she said. “I had to stay focused because I wanted to feel this happy all the time, to keep God in my heart. It’s not easy being a Christian. People think it’s a smooth ride, but it can be a struggle. Think of all the people who have been persecuted. It’s not easy.”
In May, her hard academic work paid off. After spending months applying for every scholarship she could find, she rallied more than $30,000 in college scholarships from a variety of sources, including Buford Street UMC in Gaffney, Columbia College, the Rogers and Meredith College Scholarship of the Central Carolina Community Foundation, and the S.C. State Fair. Even her drama teacher, Arvay-Beck, gave her a $300 scholarship for books.
“When the awards letters started coming in, it was amazing,” Brandes said. “God was just throwing the doors of opportunity wide open for her, just kicking those doors open.”
Brandes calls Rogers an “inspiration” and has “no doubt she will succeed.”
“God’s definitely got her in the palm of His hands,” she said.
Now poised to enter Columbia College Honors Program this month, strong in her faith, Rogers has a new goal in life: To be a missionary. She is majoring in religion and hopes to bring the love of Christ to people all over the world.
“I want people to feel the feeling I felt [in Christ],” she said. “If I can change their life like mine has been changed, then I’ve done my job here on earth.”
Ieshia Gee, Rogers’ case manager since she came to Epworth, said she remembers the young woman as always being motivated, spiritual, goal-oriented and focused. She predicts Rogers will one day become a great leader in society, someone who will help others reach their dreams.
“Other young women look up to her; they feel like ‘Hey, I can make it too,’” Gee said. “We are looking at one of our future leaders. The sky’s the limit for her. I’m just thankful I was able to be a part of her life and guide in her process.”
Ryan Culby, Asbury Hills director, said he is touched to know the camp helped bring Rogers closer to God. He said camp can be a powerful spiritual door-opener, partly because everyone is equal at camp no matter their background, and partly because the setting allows them to meet God in new ways.
“You can be Christian and have fun, be Christian and be adventurous, be Christian and worship,” Culby said. “Worship at camp is an incredible experience.”
Dr. John Zubizarreta, director of the Columbia College Honors Program, said he is really looking forward having Rogers at the college. He said her entrance essay “blew him out of the water.”
“She’s obviously already lived a life of risks and challenges, and she has not only endured, but has prevailed. And here she is ready to enter the Honors College at Columbia College,” Zubizarreta said. “I’m eager to have her here and to work with her.”
Rogers said she doesn’t think she would have ended up in college without the positive support she received after her mother died. And she hopes other young people who are struggling will consider coming to Epworth, which became her “safe haven,” and to Asbury Hills, which opened her heart.
“When people talk about when they found God, I found Him at Asbury,” Rogers said. “Epworth not only gave me a home, but led me to God, too.”