Rediscovering a Piece of Chinese History

June 03, 2024 • Chinese

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

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.

When Selles heard about the book, it 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 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 rolled up tightly in a cool basement was good storage for these posters,” An said. “The colors are so vibrant still, even after 80 or 100 years.”

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

A Rich Heritage

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

“We have spent so much time in the last few months thinking about and learning from our heritage,” An says. That heritage includes both the 50 years of Chinese media ministry that the CRC’s media ministry started as a radio broadcast under Rev. Isaac Jen in 1974 and the rich legacy of teaching and evangelism using media that these posters represent.

“Posters were the social media of the time,” An says. “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 a 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,” An says, “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 adds, “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.”

When asked about 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.”

You can find out more about these posters, including where they will be on display, at

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