From its humble beginnings in India in 1852 Interserve has always been known for its dedication to building relationships with those in need and sharing the good news about Jesus as they journey alongside them.
It was estimated that out of a population of 40 million women in India, only 400 could read and write. That’s just one woman in every 100,000. For many of these women life was spent shut away from the world in a secluded woman’s quarters, called “Zenanas”. Marriage at just 13 or 14 was not uncommon for them, neither was her husband’s death. This left her two choices. To die with him by horrifically throwing herself onto his funeral pyre or choosing a life of seclusion in the Zenana, hidden from the world.
Responding to a plea by Mrs. Mackenzie an English merchant, Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird founded the Calcutta Normal School in the United Kingdom . It’s task: to train Indian Christian women to go into the Zenana to teach those there to read and write. She had written that “If we can give the women of India the power to read, and the Book to read, God will bless His Word.”
Across the Atlantic Ocean in the United States, responding to the same plea as Mrs. MacKenzie had in England, Mrs. Sarah Dormeus founded the Women’s Union Missionary Society (WUMS). This society was similarly purposed to attend to the needs of women in British India. This gave them the opportunity to tell the women there about Jesus; and also to those they taught to read, the gift of being able to discover Him for themselves.
1880 & 1882
British and American outreach in India added medical ministry to their missions.
This simple, needs based, Gospel driven, relational approach to mission (working with the Holy Spirit to help the world become followers of Jesus) is the enduring characteristic of Interserve.
As more and more women came from England to serve; what began as a teacher training ministry soon expanded to include the establishment of hospitals, schools and orphanages.
100 years after its initial founding, the British mission accepted its first male missionary, shortly after the name was changed to the Bible Medical Mission Fellowship (BMMF), auxiliary committees were formed across the Commonwealth, and the international fellowship emerged.
WUMS and BMMF merged and Interserve has continued to send those with hearts like Mrs MacKenzie to serve where there is a need. From doctors and nurses, to teachers, and those with technical and practical skills.
Originally the Calcutta Normal School, Interserve has been known by many names in its one hundred and sixty plus year history: The Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society, The Zenana Bible and Medical Mission, Women’s Union Missionary Society and more recently the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship. Throughout these name changes, our dedication to those in Asia and the Arab world has always been at the forefront of what we do.