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Rediscovering a Piece of Chinese History

June 5, 2024
ReFrame’s Chinese ministry leader, Jerry An, with some of the posters currently on display at Wheaton (Ill.) College.
ReFrame’s Chinese ministry leader, Jerry An, with some of the posters currently on display at Wheaton (Ill.) College.

When Jerry An, Chinese ministry leader for ReFrame Ministries, spoke with Kurt Selles, ReFrame’s director, about a new book he was reading, he had no idea what their conversation would lead to. 

The book, Visions of Salvation, edited by Dr. Daryl Ireland, talks about propaganda posters from the 1920s to the 1940s in China. Many of those posters were Christian-based. 

Selles then said that reminded him of a tube that had been sitting in his basement mostly untouched for decades. Inside were 20 Chinese Christian posters used by his grandparents, Rev. Albert and Trena Selles, during their years serving as Christian Reformed missionaries in China from 1925 to 1949. 

The paper that the posters are made of “is so thin and fragile,” Selles said; “I didn’t want to destroy them, so I just rolled them back up and forgot about them.”

An is thankful that he did. “Apparently, being rolled up tightly in a cool basement was good for these posters” as a way to store them, said An. “The colors are so vibrant still, even after 80 or 100 years.” 

With Selles’s permission, An and the Chinese ministry team had the Chinese Christian posters restored and framed at a Chinese shop in Toronto, Ont. Half of the framed posters are currently on display at Wheaton College, with additional exhibitions being planned. 

A Rich Heritage

The Chinese Christian posters were discovered during the 50th-anniversary celebration of ReFrame’s Chinese-language ministry. 

“We have spent so much time in the past few months thinking about and learning from our heritage,” said An. That heritage includes 50 years of Chinese media ministry begun by the CRC in the form of radio broadcasting under Rev. Isaac Jen in 1974 as well as the rich legacy of teaching and evangelism that these posters represent. 

“Posters were the social media of the time,” An said. “As a media ministry, we can learn from them.”

In July, An will be hosting Dr. Daryl Ireland at Calvin Theological Seminary to give a public lecture as part of a Chinese Public Theology Symposium. Ireland will use the posters as a launching point to consider the role of art and imagination in faith as well as the nature and impact of public theology. 

“The forms of media have changed,” said An, “but the need for good Christian public communication and witness has not.” 

According to Selles, the posters “demonstrate the power of media in the sense that they are tools to help unpack in a cultural setting—a completely foreign cultural setting—the deep truths of the Bible.” He added, “One thing that really impresses me about these posters is that they are not simplistic at all. There is some actually pretty deep teaching in them.” 

Commenting on what he hopes for these posters now that they are out of his basement, Selles says, “I would like to see them used, displayed in such a way that they can be helpful to other people to understand the power of media.” 

More about these posters, including where they will be on display, is available at