Interserve is one of the oldest international, interdenominational, overseas-focused agencies in existence. We began in 1852 in South Asia to care for the poor and marginalized in such a way that they could encounter Jesus and experience the life that He wanted for them. The vision God gave to our founders is still alive.
Jesus shapes our mission
Jesus’ incarnation shapes the way we live.
We seek to live in communities for extended periods of time, learning their languages and adapting to their cultures while letting them experience the difference that the presence of the Lord makes in our lives.
Jesus’ cross shapes the way we work.
We work in areas where we do not have the power to control events and make things happen. Nonetheless, Jesus uses our lives, our work, and our relationships. Through these He enables us to be living expressions of His love and truth, directing people to Himself. They change and flourish as they encounter and follow Him.
Jesus’ resurrection shapes our confidence.
By following Jesus we change the way tomorrow looks for these individuals, for their communities, and for the world.
What Makes Interserve Different
Interserve is an international organization with 14 national councils and over 800 cross-cultural workers – whom we refer to as Partners. An International Leadership ensures the development of the fellowship’s purpose, vision, direction, standard and systems. Each entity is responsible to implement these on behalf of the whole fellowship, developing them in ways that are contextually appropriate.
We celebrate the diversity that exists in the Body of Christ and welcome the distinctives that each denomination brings to our fellowship. We welcome a rich diversity of cultures, providing opportunity for growth and learning. We also affirm that women and men share in the full range of ministry and leadership roles.
We believe that mission is our participation at God’s invitation and command in God’s goal to redeem God’s creation. Therefore, our participation is wholistic, embracing the whole context of the individuals and communities we serve.
Our Partners work in the heartlands of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. These are areas where roughly ninety percent of the world’s unreached peoples live and only three percent of Christian workers serve. Since these contexts are significantly different from ours, we emphasize that long-term, career service is the best way to effectively serve the peoples of these areas and glorify God.
Being and making disciples cannot be separated from each other. Therefore, we are committed to the personal growth and development of our Partners. In addition, we are committed to seeing the transformation of individuals and communities in our areas of service through their encounter and ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ. Since this transformation begins and expands at the relational level, it is natural that the sharing of our gifts, knowledge, experience, and walk with Christ take place in the context of our interpersonal relationships.
Extension of the Church
Local bodies of believers, here and abroad, are God’s vehicles for mission. For churches in the USA, Interserve acts as a facilitator and extension of their involvement in worldwide service. While abroad, Partners identify with and support the development of local churches in their areas of service.
The History of Interserve
Interserve USA has a double heritage — that of a British organization founded in 1852 in London, and an American one founded in 1860 in New York City. Both organizations worked in Asia and their works ran parallel with similar goals until 1976 when they merged.
How Did It All Begin?
The lives of nineteenth century Indian women were hard, even if they were from high-caste Hindu or wealthy Muslim families. Young girls were married off in childhood and became the property of their husbands. They were confined to the women’s quarters of the husband’s family, called zenanas. In those days even wealthy women were not educated. And they were deprived of adequate medical care since all the physicians were men. The most egregious example of the oppression of women was the Hindu custom of suttee (widow burning). A Hindu woman was held somehow responsible for her husband’s death and by immolating herself on his funeral pyre she could hope to cleanse herself of this sin.
In 1851, a high caste Hindu woman in Calcutta named Mohesuri was publicly baptized. She and her cousins had found a Bible, had read it, and Mohesuri had come to believe in Jesus Christ as her Savior. Mrs. Mackenzie, the wife of an English merchant working in India, heard about this conversion and wrote to a friend in England, Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird, who was married to a member of Parliament. Mrs. Mackenzie described to Lady Kinnaird the miserable plight of women in India. Lady Kinnaird was moved by Mrs. Mackenzie’s compassion for women in India. As a result, on March 1, 1852 Lady Kinnaird founded the London Board for the Calcutta Normal School and insisted that the organization be interdenominational. She wrote, “If we can give the women of India the power to read, and the Book to read, God will bless His Word.”
Meanwhile Across the Ocean
While this was happening in England, in New York City Sarah Doremus heard a missionary from China speak about the need for women to reach women in the East. She was the wife of a prominent businessman. In spite of the resistance of many male mission leaders in America, Sarah Doremus founded the Woman’s Union Missionary Society (WUMS) in 1861. This was the first foreign mission society in America to have soley women Board members and only women missionaries. The organization was also interdenominational. This was unheard of at that time. In 1862, their first missionary, Miss Harriet Britain set off for India.
In 1880 the London Board for the Calcutta Normal School added medical work to its ministry and changed its name to the Zenana Bible and Medical Mission (ZBMM). In those days women doctors were a rarity. However, both the UK and US had few problems finding dedicated Christian women physicians to send. Many of these women entered the field of medicine in order to be missionaries. In 1883, the WUMS began medical work in China and cooperated with other churches and mission groups.
A New Century, New Challenges
In 1936, the ZBMM was having severe financial difficulties and another world war seemed imminent. The Board voted on whether or not to be absorbed by their Anglican counterpart, the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society. By one vote the board decided to remain independent and interdenominational.
The 1950s brought many changes to these two missions. In 1951, work in China ended for WUMS, but the door to Nepal opened. WUMS became a member of the United Mission of Nepal. ZBMM was already a member. In 1952, one hundred years after its founding, ZBMM approached Jack Dain and Alan Norrish to lead the mission forward. This was the first time men were given an opportunity to join the organization. Under their leadership the mission grew. Auxiliary committees were formed in a number of countries. These committees soon became full sending National Councils. The direction of the mission now came from all the Councils – each Council with one vote. The ZBMM had moved from being a British organization to being an international one. The ZBMM also began nationalizing many of their institutions and property.
In 1957, the organization became the Bible & Medical Missionary Fellowship (BMMF).
In 1964 the U.S. Council of BMMF was formed under the guidance of the BMMF Canadian Council. The Canadian Council continued to guide the administrative policies of the U.S. Council until 1974 when Dr. Jay W. MacMoran was appointed as Acting Director. The founding Charter Board members of the U.S. Council included Dr. C. Everett Koop, the former Surgeon General.
A Time of Expansion
In 1970, WUMS changed its name to the United Fellowship for Christian Service (UFCS) and men joined their Council. After this serious discussions began about merging with BMMF. In 1974, Alan Norrish came to the U.S. to initiate the merger process. By 1976 the merger was complete and BMMF International opened its office in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. That same year the U.S. Council became fully independent of the Canadian Council and Rev. T. Laurence Wynne became the U.S. Director. In 1986, Dr. Ralph Eckardt took over as the U.S. Director. Soon after BMMF International changed its name to the International Service Fellowship, now commonly known as Interserve. In January 2004, Rev. Douglas Van Bronkhorst became IS USA’s Executive Director, and more recently, in January 2013, Dr. Patrick Krayer assumed this role.
Looking to the Future
Interserve has 161 years of servanthood and service. Our mission has always been to glorify God by serving his Church and represent Jesus Christ through wholistic ministry where He is least known. Times have changed. The world is not like it was in 1852. These changes present new challenges. New challenges bring new opportunities. We are as we always have been- servants for the hard places.