By Jessica Connor
ORANGEBURG – Heather Cochran lives her life to reflect what late spiritual leader and peace activist Mahatma Gandhi once said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Indeed, at just 18 years old, Cochran is making great strides in living that change.
For 10 years, since she was 8 years old, she has been a member of Black Methodists for Church Renewal. Two years ago, at age 16, she was chosen by the national BMCR caucus to represent them on the Division of Ministries with Young People of the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church, a position she will hold until 2012. She has served on the Curriculum Resource Committee for the General Board since 2008. And she has been a lay speaker at her church, Edisto Fork UMC, Orangeburg, for almost a year.
Now a freshman at University of South Carolina Beaufort, this latest transition to college seems small compared to the whirlwind of Christian servanthood she has experienced the last few years.
“What’s driving me is the fact that BMCR, with it being a caucus, a lot of people don’t really know about it in the General Board,” Cochran said. “It’s not going to change overnight, but you can focus and strive for what you want. I want the General Board and DMYP to know about BMCR and know the things we do.”
After all, she said, the main goal of any UMC entity – caucus, division or ministry – is to bring people to Christ and make disciples. And it’s our job as servants to make these entities the most effective they can be in order to accomplish that.
“I want to let people know who Jesus was and what he did,” she said.
Most people who serve on the DMYP are elected through the jurisdictional process, but the caucus groups, like BMCR, also send representation. The Rev. Hayes Gainey, Edisto Fork pastor and coordinator of the S.C. Chapter of BMCR, recommended Cochran for the DMYP slot on behalf of BMCR.
“I recommended Heather because she was a young lady who was very mature as a Christian for her age and who had a wealth of energy to serve in any capacity, and she had a love for young people in the church implementing ministries to meet them where they are,” Gainey said. “As we continue to watch Heather develop, we see she is a multitalented person who is visionary about where things are and where things can go.
“She is part of a group of young people who are not just the church for tomorrow but for today, as she reminds me from time to time.”
Kathy James, S.C. Conference congregational specialist, agrees.
“Heather is a dynamic young woman,” James said. “Young people like Heather give me hope for the future of the United Methodist Church.”
Cochran credits a solid upbringing from her mother with her drive to increase disciples and bring change.
“My mom was a single parent, and she raised both me and my sister, and she always told us that in everything we do, we must always remember where we came from and why we do what we do,” Cochran said. “It’s not necessarily where you came from but where you’re going that makes a difference, but you should always remember where you came from. She always told us we could do anything we put our minds to. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, and I really believe that.”
Cochran said she and her sister were raised to go to church always, to understand who God is and to rely on Him: “That’s what made me who I am today.”
When she first went to Nashville, Tenn., to represent BMCR on the DMYP, she knew it was an honor and that she would be meeting many different people.
But at her first meeting in August 2008, “I was pretty shocked.” There, she met people from all over the world: translators for people from the Philippines, South Africa, Russia, Germany and more.
Representatives ranged from ages 13 to 30, and she said the opportunity to serve has been “wonderful.”
In addition to her work for the UMC, Cochran is majoring in hospitality management at USC Beaufort with a minor in business administration. She wants to be an event planner and hopes to open a chain of nationwide daycare centers. She also dreams of opening a UMC K-12 school.
“And hopefully, I would love in the next 10 years to be the chair of BMCR,” she said. “I think I would make a pretty good chair.”