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Preaching MLK and and a 'Little' gospel

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Marshall grad Christopher Little returns to preach in Spirit Valley. (Photo by Naomi Yaeger)2 / 2

On Sunday evening the walls of of a small church in Spirit Valley reverberated with the high energy of gospel music, as a diverse group of Duluthians gathered for an ecumenical Christian worship service to honor and remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The church, Christ Temple Victory Center on 59th Avenue West, is the home church of 2004 Marshall High School graduate Christopher Little. Little preached the sermon.

During this ecumenical service a powerhouse of pastors from local churches sat in the first two pews. They represented different denominations: Catholic, Lutheran, African Methodist Episcopal and Pentecostal, to name just a few. Some held the tradition of free-wheeling worship with joyful noise and encouraging amens, and some held the tradition of sitting straight up in the pew and keeping stoic silence.

Each pastor at the platform spoke about civil rights. Christopher Little preached a message of hope and unity.

Little spoke about how the slain leader did not get his leadership power from a vacuum, but that King leaned on his church's teachings. Little outlined three things that helped King get his power.

First was that King prayed. Little reminded the churchgoers that their elders prayed.

"Do you think you are going to do something without prayer?" he asked. "You have another think coming!" He said many people get busy with their jobs or taking care of children. "Maybe I'm talking about someone who has abandoned their devotions," he said. "I'm asking you to dust it off."

Second was that the movement worked together. Little acknowledged that there were some divisions in the civil rights movement, but said, "They prayed together, they marched together, sang together and went to jail together. Two is better than one and a threefold chord is not easily broken."

The third quality was love. "The movement didn't have any guns, grenades or green berets," Little said.

Little said the second commandment, "Love thy neighbor," is a part of that love that King practiced.

Little referred to the book of Luke and the parable of the Good Samaritan when a pharisee (an expert in the law) verbally tried to trip Jesus up by getting technically strict on the definition of a who is a neighbor.

"A neighbor might be your spouse, your sibling, a parent or a homeless guy," Little said. He said some people will purposely avert their eyes when they see someone who needs help so that they can pretend they don't see the need.

He challenged churches to put away their differences and work together.

"Our churches should be full of people who look a little weird."

Invoking King's statement in a 1963 speech, "Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted," Little said, "Our churches should be full of people who are maladjusted."

Little's own struggles helped him prepare for a life of ministry

Listening to Christopher Little's dynamic preaching, singing and piano-playing, one might never guess that he has struggled with self-confidence, stemming from feeling inadequate due to a learning disability and health issues as a young child.

In addition to serving as a minister of music at at a New Life Church in Garden City, Mich., the Marshall graduate attends medical school at Wayne State University.

Little's parents, Claudia and Phillip Little, now live in Sioux Falls and are both medical doctors who worked at the Veterans Administration outpatient Center in Superior when Little was a student at Marshall.

"When I was in the third or fourth grade, my parents noticed that I was struggling with my writing skills," Little told the Budgeteer. "But they knew I was relatively bright ... They couldn't put the picture together. I was in a special ed for writing and by time I was in fifth grade I was in a gifted class for science and mathematics."

As a grade school child in Missouri, Little says he had asthma and sinus issues so intense that in first grade he needed to be hospitalized. But in seventh grade his asthma and sinuses got better. By that time his family moved to the Billings Park neighborhood of Superior and he attended Marshall School. "I thank the Lord for the power to heal," he said. He wasn't cured from his ailments overnight, but "prayer had something to do with it."

Retired Marshall science teacher and Budgeteer columnist Larry Weber remembers Little as a student who was passionate about the weather. "He was pretty hard to forget," Weber said.

Weber recalled that Little carried his own weather thermometer. "I was not surprised that as a senior he did a project with the National Weather Service," he said. But Weber was surprised when Little invited him back to see his senior project. "By time students are seniors, they pretty much forget about their seventh-grade teacher. He is the only one who invited me back to a senior project."

Dave Anderson, a meteorologist at KBJR-TV Channel 6, recalled when Little did an internship. "(He) was one of our weather watchers as a small child," Anderson said. "I first met him when he was a little kid attending a National Weather Service storm spotter training session ... By college, I think his chart analysis skills exceeded mine. But, he was always impressed by my ability to interpret model output statistics data. We made a good team."

Little recalls that as a high school student he pondered on his future. "I was just asking the Lord, what is it that I should do? I don't remember his voice distinctly at that time and I knew I wanted to do something in the sciences."

After Little graduated from Marshall in 2004, he attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a degree in atmospheric and oceanic sciences in 2008.

2011 was a year of internal turnaround. Little says he was still questioning the direction of his life. "I loved weather ... I love weather to this day. I didn't think it got me into a position where I could touch people's lives.

"I went to the Lord and said, 'What am I supposed to do with my life?"

He said he prayed more. "When you struggle with your own self-worth, that can hinder your ability to trust God. I was struggling, because there was a lot of pressure to do well, to balance so many things. Pressure has ways of finding out where your weakness is."

In 2012 he married Sheriah Quartey and in 2013 he began medical school.

For now, Little is satisfying his desire to help others by serving as minister of music at New Life Church in Garden City, Mich. and pursuing a medical degree at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit.

"I'm grateful to be in a place where I'm learning about the Lord, learning about life and learning about love," he said.

Naomi Yaeger is the editor or the Duluth Budgeteer News and was a member of the MLK celebration community choir which sang at the service. Contact her at nyaeger@duluthbudgeteer.com.

Related articles:

Duluth celebrates diversity

Undoing racism: What's your plan?

Naomi Yaeger

Naomi Yaeger is a freelance writer and the former editor of the Budgeteer. See her blog at www.DuluthDailyPhoto.com.

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