Last year, the federal government added a few words about “integration” to its cooperative agreement with refugee resettlement agencies like Catholic Charities.
We were told to develop a strategy around integration, and I resisted — almost as a matter of principle — because the directive originated from an administration consistently developing anti-immigration policies. My mind wandered to what this integration strategy would look like. I imagined us not only encouraging but requiring clients to learn English and forcing them to assimilate to all aspects of American culture.
I maintained this skepticism until recently when I learned the Latin root for the word “integration” means something more like “wholeness” or combining many parts to create a whole. That reframed everything. Perhaps integration isn’t about forcing change, but about bringing people together. And as we get to know people with various cultural practices and backgrounds, that coming together brings about a little bit of change in all of us.
I think about all the ways Jesus brings people together throughout the Gospels. At the conclusion of many of his healings and miracles, Jesus says to the recipient something along the lines of, “Get up and go.” In that time and place, people with chronic medical or mental health conditions were cast to the outskirts of society. So when Jesus healed them, he didn’t just fix their ailment, he opened a door for them to re-enter society. When Jesus says “Go,” he’s letting them know they’re free to be part of society again.
In one story from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is near the border between Galilee and Samaria. Luke notes that one of the 10 lepers in the story, the one who returns to thank Jesus, was a Samaritan. The Samaritans lived on the “other” side of the border. Jews and Samaritans didn’t communicate much, and when they did, it was often disrespectful. Both groups believed they were the true keepers of the covenant, valuing different parts of scripture and practicing different worship traditions. And yet these other nine lepers, presumably Jewish people, had included the Samaritan.
I imagine this group of 10 lepers as a sort of expat community, all of them with a shared experience of exile, sticking together and supporting each other. Perhaps in their mutual pain, the ethnic and religious differences weren’t so significant.
We’re less inclined to argue over theological differences or geographic boundaries when we are hurting and in need. Jesus also doesn’t point out the differences. After saying, “get up and go on your way,” he adds, “your faith has made you well.”
He doesn’t enter into a theological debate. The Samaritan was hurting and had faith. I wonder if, when they were healed, those other nine people went back into their communities with a different perspective about Samaritans. Did they tell their friends and family about this Samaritan friend with whom they had bonded and found a common humanity?
In the little break room of our English as a Second Language school at Catholic Charities, there is a framed poem I’ve always found humbling. It reads:
“He prayed — it wasn’t my religion.
He ate — it wasn’t what I ate.
He dressed — it wasn’t what I wore.
He took my hand — it wasn’t the color of mine.
But when he laughed — it was how I laughed,
and when he cried — it was how I cried.”
As we think about helping our clients integrate into their new community, let us be reminded that we all are individual parts of the whole. We all have a role in the work of welcoming. It starts with really seeing the people around us and a willingness to listen, allowing ourselves to be impacted by their deepest pain and greatest joy.
And when each of us open our minds to learn and grow, to listen and share, seeking healing through our commonalities and finding beauty in our differences, we will bring about wholeness as one community.
Alix Davidson is the grants coordinator for Catholic Charities of Louisville’s Migration and Refugee Services.