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Bishop led church thriving for 45 years

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Bishop Charles L. Little thought he was one step ahead of a Memphis lynch mob when he came to Chicago.

“He was running for his life,” said his daughter, Valerie Mosley.

Yet he became one of the pillars of Chicago’s black churches, forming a house of worship that has thrived almost 45 years, with believers who feel his fasting and prayerfulness made him a gifted healer. His church, God’s House for All Nations, has produced 21 other pastors, his daughter said.

Bishop Little, 87, died Tuesday of heart failure at his Chatham home.

He headed North after a searingly frightening experience at the Memphis home of the white family for whom he worked. “There was a daughter there, and she flirted with him a little bit,” said Valerie Mosley. “She asked him, ‘Am I pretty?’ ”

In the 1940s South, black men had been killed for less, and Mr. Little knew it. He wouldn’t answer her.

In a fit of pique, the young woman told her father their “boy” made a pass at her. Mr. Little, who was in the house, stood frozen as he overheard the Tennessee patriarch roar, ‘I’m going to kill that n-----.”

He ran as fast as he could, too scared to go home. “He went from neighbor to neighbor until he got on the train” to the North, his daughter said. “He said he’d never been so afraid.”

During his early days in Chicago, he hung out in pool halls, gambled, drank, and smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, his daughter said. When a doctor told him he’d come down with tuberculosis, he was so depressed, he took to bed. He told no one about the diagnosis, but a pastor told him, “ ‘I have a word from the Lord for you, that you have tuberculosis’ — and that got my father’s attention,” Valerie Mosley said. “The pastor continued, ‘But if you surrender to the Lord tonight, he will heal you and he will save you.’ ”

He never smoked or drank again. He began studying at Moody Bible Institute.

His mother, respected evangelist Bessie Botto, dreamed they would start a church. They held their first service in their Hyde Park home. Later they bought a theater at 411 E. 43rd St. and founded God’s House for All Nations.

Bishop Little fasted, prayed and laid on hands. Many believed his piety helped heal them of illness and addiction. Jimmy Rolling was one of them.

Cocaine addiction shadowed Rolling’s life from 1983 to 1991, “my dark years,” he said. He barely hung on to his job. His hair was unkempt and his nails were long. He was in debt. “I didn’t even have a car. I let my car get towed.”

Then he met Bishop Little. “He wasn’t a big-time pastor. He wasn’t wearing gold chains. . . . He didn’t speak the King’s English. He spoke like the common man,” Rolling said. “He said, ‘God sees everything you did in your life, and he loves you anyway.” Rolling felt electrified. He went to rehab and cleaned up his life.

A lot of wives probably owe thanks to Bishop Little. Long before the Women’s Liberation movement, he’d tell the church’s men: “You have to be there for your wife. Help out with the chores around the house. Bring flowers to your wife. Change the diapers,’’ said his son-in-law, Idrain Mosley.

He was a one-man employment agency and clothier. When Idrain Mosley met Bishop Little, Mosley said he was a self-described “raggedy kid from the projects” dressed in jeans and Vietnam military jackets.

Bishop Little took him to Lytton’s and bought him a good suit. When Idrain Mosley sought work, the bishop called someone in the congregation and landed him a job at Continental Bank.

Today Idrain Mosley is pastor to the Holy Center congregation in Bolingbrook. Thanks to Bishop Little, “I came from the projects, to pastor,” he said.

Bishop Little’s phone never stopped. “The phone would ring at midnight or 1 a.m.,” his daughter said. “Some young man just got picked up [by police]. Somebody was very sick and got rushed to the hospital. He would get up, get his clothes on and go.”

Every night he liked to sit in the orange chair in his front room and pray. On special occasions like their anniversary, he and Corine, his wife of 54 years, would treat themselves to a stay at a hotel. But he still felt drawn to his meditation spot. “He would leave the hotel, come back home and pray in the orange chair — and go back to the hotel,” his daughter said.

Bishop Little served in the Navy in World War II on a vessel in Sitka, Alaska. He was a porter for the captain, and the only African American aboard, according to his son-in-law. Ship card games were an ordeal — racial slurs flew nonstop, Idrain Mosley said. Some of the sailors he befriended grew sick of it. “They gave him permission to beat up a guy because they got tired of him being insulted. They said, ‘Go ahead, Chucky — go on and take care of him.’ ’’ So he did.

Bishop Little is also survived by his daughters Grace and Linda; a son, Thaddeus; seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

A wake is planned from 6 to 7 p.m. Sunday and funeral services are from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday at Freedom Temple Church of God in Christ, 1459 W. 74th St. Burial is Monday at Oak Woods Cemetery.

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