Every year IMPACT holds the largest public meeting in greater Charlottesville, gathering over 1,500 people. We call this meeting our Nehemiah Action Assembly. Its name comes from scriptural roots; we model our public gathering after Nehemiah chapter 5.
Nehemiah was an influential man in his own right, acting as cup bearer to the king of Persia. He is granted permission from the king to return to Jerusalem to help rebuild the wall around the city. Upon arrival he finds a vulnerable city and begins organizing the reconstruction of the wall.
As he works along side the people of Jerusalem he hears cries of injustice. The people had to borrow money to afford food for their families and taxes for their land. When they were unable to pay back these debts, many of them had to mortgage their land (which they had borrowed the money to keep) and sell their children to slavery (for whom they had borrowed the money to feed).
When Nehemiah heard of these injustices, he became angry. He wanted to see justice done, but he knew he was powerless to do anything on his own. We read that he gathered a “great assembly” where the power of a large group of people had the power to hold the money lenders accountable to fairness and justice.
The people created real power by coming together at this assembly; the money lenders agreed to return what they had taken and discontinue their unjust practices. Justice and righteousness were restored in the community.
Today the people of Charlottesville face crises of their own. 25% of residents live below the poverty line; the jail is the largest provider of mental health care; over 500 children are homeless or unstably housed; there is an extreme shortage of affordable housing; 15% of students will not graduate high school; the cost of living is 110% of the national average.
These are problems that people of faith are called to confront. In order for us to see justice in our community we must be like Nehemiah and gather great assemblies of our own.