Our Story

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.


Interserve’s story begins in the early 19th century when a growing awareness of the physical and spiritual needs of women in India led to a remarkable partnership between expatriate women and Indian Christian pioneers, founded on a shared vision to provide education and healthcare to women who would otherwise not be able to access these services. Women from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and other countries worked with Indian Christian women in a groundbreaking effort to serve people living on the margins of society.


This initial effort was formalised in 1852 with the foundation of the Calcutta Normal School, a teacher training college in Kolkata. This school trained women to go into the women’s quarters (or “zenanas”) of Indian homes to provide literacy training to women and girls. Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird, the wife of a Scottish financier and a major promoter of Christian initiatives, set up an office in London to recruit and support the growing number of expatriate workers.


Across the Atlantic Ocean in the United States, responding to the same plea as Lady Kinnair had heard in England, Mrs. Sarah Doremus founded the Women’s Union Missionary Society (WUMS). This society was run along similar lines to the London initiative: to attend to the needs of women in British India.


At this point in our history medical work was added to our ministry. Some of the first women ever trained as doctors in the UK went to India in another groundbreaking initiative: to provide medical care to Indian women who might not normally be able to access it. 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 our story began the first male worker was recruited. Additional committees were formed in several more countries around the world and the international fellowship emerged.


The work founded by Sarah Doremus merged with the wider fellowship of Interserve, leading to an increased focus on recruitment. Since then Interserve has continued to send those with hearts to serve where there is a need, using their practical skills, passions and their love for Jesus to join in with God’s wonderful work in the world.

Summary text

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.