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 Interserves’s work began back in 1852 when a small group of British women felt called to serve the women of India. Indian women were often married at a young age – sometimes only 13 or 14 years old – and, if they were subsequently widowed, were either expected to commit sati by jumping onto their husband’s funeral pyre, or to spend the rest of their lives locked up at home in the zenana, or women’s quarters.

These British women  felt called to minister to these women and so they started teaching them to read, caring for their needs and speaking to them about Jesus. As the work grew, more and more women came from England to serve the women of India, despite the hardships – in those days, getting from Britain to India was a serious undertaking, and several workers died from sickness on the voyage or shortly after arriving in India.

So many names

Interserve has been through many name changes in its long history. It was originally known as the Calcutta Normal School until 1864, then the Indian Female Normal School and Instruction Society until 1880, then the Zenana Bible and Medical Mission until 1957, then the Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship until 1987. The name was then changed to Interserve to reflect both its international nature and its emphasis on service.

The work spreads

The work gradually spread to neighbouring countries, such as Pakistan (following the Partition of British India) and Nepal, which was completely closed to Christianity until the 1950s (the Nepali Church now consists of over 400,000 people). In 1952, men were accepted as workers for the first time – until then, only women were allowed to join. The work has spread to all the countries of Asia and the Arab World, and Interserve workers are sent from many countries, including Canada, Holland, the US, Malaysia, Germany, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, South Africa, Brazil, and England and Wales.

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