Greater Tulsa Reporter
HELPING OTHERS: Minister Bernadette McQueen, left, founder of the Changing Lives Outreach ministry, leads congregants Kayla Borts, right, and Teressa Brown in prayer during the Saturday worship service at the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless.
One thing Bernadette Mechelle McQueen, M.A., a native of Alabama and graduate of Tuskegee College, never expected is that she would end up homeless, spending months living in her car in Tulsa. “My journey to Tulsa started a long time before I realized it,” says McQueen. “God put in me an awareness of Tulsa and the desire to live in Tulsa years before I actually moved here. ORU was the first college I applied to, and after a visit years later, after my son was born, I knew that I would be back. I just didn’t know what for, or when,” she says.
McQueen grew up in a very spiritual family, spending a lot of time in church and learning from her mother, who has been a tremendous influence in her life. “I’ve always felt close to God, and in 1992, one morning after I awoke and said my prayers, I felt the clear guidance from the Lord telling me I would move to Tulsa.”
McQueen’s first reaction was to want to know when. She opened her Bible and it fell open to the book of Habbakuk, Chapter Two. “The second and third verses really stood out for me. I contemplated the Scripture for a long time and decided that I would do whatever God wanted me to do, including moving to Tulsa, even if I did not know why.”
Shortly thereafter, a friend of McQueen’s called to inform her that he had relocated to Tulsa and he believed in his spirit that she was moving to Tulsa. Following this, McQueen’s mother called her, and when McQueen told her about the prompting to move to Tulsa, her mother voiced her total support for the decision and offered to take care of McQueen’s two-year-old son until her daughter got settled.
McQueen wrapped up everything in Birmingham and, after ensuring her son was safely at her mother’s house, she started her journey to Tulsa. After a brief stay in Oklahoma City, McQueen arrived in Tulsa. She experienced difficulties initially, and it was during this time she ended up homeless, living in her car. “I didn’t really know anyone, but I didn’t want to upset my mother so I never told her about the difficulties I was experiencing,” she says.
McQueen says that although her circumstances were unexpected and even devastating at times, she never gave up hope and never lost faith. “God kept me going, and I knew that He had something planned for me that I was supposed to do. I still did not know exactly what, but I refused to give up.”
McQueen eventually met people and made some friends and was able to move in with a friend while she found a job. “As soon as I found a job, got on my feet and got my own housing, I asked my mother to bring my son to Tulsa. I had missed him so much and I was so happy to have him back with me.”
McQueen was able to work and take care of her son for two years until her rent increased to the point she not afford it. She became homeless again, this time with her son, who was five at the time. After several months living in their car, McQueen and her son were able to move in with an elderly couple from a local church. McQueen continued to work, and eventually she was able to move herself and her son into their own two-bedroom apartment. After her father passed away, McQueen’s mother moved to Tulsa, joining McQueen and her son. By this time McQueen was working full time at Central High School.
By 2004, McQueen had started thinking about a ministry. “One day, I felt very strongly that the Lord wanted me to go to the Tulsa Day Center, a shelter for the homeless, so I did. I saw people standing outside and I just started visiting with them, and praying for them. I continued to visit the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless every Saturday.”
McQueen said she felt very strongly about doing more for the people at the center so she spoke to Deborah Dexter, the coordinator, and shared her idea about developing a ministry to help.
Dexter was enthusiastic and supportive. McQueen formed a 501© 3 organization, Changing Lives Outreach, and continued to go to the Center every Saturday. She initially ministered to hurting women, praying with them and bringing food and toiletries. Over time this expanded to include children and men. With her mother’s help, McQueen has been able to provide men, women and children at the Tulsa Day Center for the Homeless with food, clothing, toiletries, prayer and a 1 p.m. church service every Saturday for the past four years.
McQueen says, “People ask me how I can be around the homeless and why I care so much. It’s because I have been blessed to know what it is like. I know what they are experiencing. My mother taught me and my brothers and sisters that we must do what we can to meet people’s needs.” Changing Lives Outreach has truly touched people’s lives and met their needs, both practical and spiritual. “People have come through our ministry, their lives have been changed, they have heard the Word of God, accepted Christ and been able to move on and overcome their challenges,” she says.
McQueen mentions one event that was truly special for the ladies at the Day Center. “We organized a luncheon for the homeless women, provided a hairdresser; a local business donated beautiful gowns; we rented two white stretch limos and we took them to a wonderful lunch at the SpiritBank Event Center. It was so special for everyone involved.” McQueen says that Changing Lives Outreach has an Easter Clothing Drive every year and hosts a Christmas party for the Day Center as well.
As the number of people needing help grows so does the need for donations and volunteers. She says, “As more and more people find themselves and their children in need, it takes more resources. Changing Lives Outreach has been able to provide food, clothing and spiritual support to the homeless for the past four years.”
McQueen, now a licensed and ordained minister, adds, “I hope that people in our community can see the good work we have been blessed to do and find it in their hearts to support the work of Changing Lives Outreach with their time or resources so we can continue to serve the homeless and their needs.”
The next important event McQueen is already working on is the annual Christmas party on Dec. 22, which provides food for over 500 people. “I feel so blessed to be able to reach people who are hurting, and I know that God will provide. He always does.”
For more information about Changing Lives Outreach, visit changinglivesoutreachministry.bbnow.org or call 918-814-8313.