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Celebrating Interracial Friendships in Black and White


In September of last year, prison chaplain Susan Cleveland donated a kidney to Buddi Subba, a former refugee from Nepal and a recently naturalized U.S. citizen, at a hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The two women, who both attend Church of the Servant, a Christian Reformed congregation in Grand Rapids, were photographed, arms entwined, as part of an exhibit of 20 black-and-white photos that celebrated cross-cultural relationships within the congregation.

Dan Davis, the photographer behind the exhibit, explained that Cleveland responded almost immediately after hearing a prayer request that someone in the congregation needed a kidney transplant. The request did not mention Subba by name.

“(Susan) felt absolutely compelled to give that kidney. She didn't even know who it was [for]. And they matched,” said Davis, who has been attending Church of the Servant for more than 20 years.

Titled “Friends in Jesus Christ,” the exhibit features people from 16 countries, including Sudan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Iraq. Many of those coming from outside the U.S. attend the congregation’s Basic English Service, a service that was begun to offer a worship experience for people who were just learning the language. That service is held at the same time as the congregation’s Standard English Service, said Helen Bonzelaar, who helped Davis put together the exhibit. Usually once every quarter, the congregants hold a joint service, known as a “prism service.”

“In a lot of ways, we’re a ministry to people on their way,” Bonzelaar said. “We’re people on a journey, in many ways.”

“Friends in Jesus Christ” is the third photo exhibit Davis has put together at Church of the Servant. The first one consisted of portraits of people who were attending the Basic English Service, while the second one, titled “All One Body,” consisted of photos taken of recently arrived families in their homes. Stories were collected from each family on how they came to the U.S., some under difficult circumstances.

“The objective of that collection was to introduce their families to the broader congregation,” Davis said.

The new photo exhibit, which was on display in the church through August and September, was made into a booklet with an introductory narrative written by Bonzelaar that details some of the relationships within the congregation. One photo depicts two teen sisters who drove 20 miles on a regular basis to care for the children of a Sudanese immigrant and single mother as she worked an overnight job at a local hospital.

One of the goals of the exhibit was to encourage cross-cultural friendships. “If you see two people in a relationship on film, you start to feel that relationship as you observe the picture,” Davis said.

About 300 booklets were published for church congregants, Bonzelaar said.

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