New book tells story of Czech minister forced to flee to Scotland

What would it be like for your family to be spied on, interrogated and terrorised--by your own government? That's what happened to Tomas Bisek, a minister with the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren and his wife Daniela after they had returned from a year at Union Theological Seminary in New York in the USA.

The Biseks, who had also signed Charter 77, which criticised the Czech government for human rights violations, were forced to flee Czechoslovakia with their four young children in 1985. They came to Scotland where Mr Bisek worked as a minister in Cumbernauld and Glasgow, later returning to their homeland.

Bisek Family The Bisek Family today.

Now, Mr Bisek has chronicled those events, and much more about his storied life, in his memoir— Finding My Way: Memories of a Czech dissident 1939-2008 – which will be launched in Edinburgh on Wednesday 25 May.

Mr and Mrs Bisek will be joined at the event by four of their children and some of their 12 grandchildren who live in Scotland.

One of the Bisek's daughters, Lucie Miller, became a teacher, married a Church of Scotland minister and now lives in Stirling. The book brought back memories, she says. The family were forced to leave Czechoslovakia with their four young children in 1985. They came to Scotland where Mr Bisek worked as a minister in Cumbernauld and Glasgow, later returning to their homeland.

Now, Mr Bisek has chronicled those events, and much more about his storied life, in his memoir— Finding My Way: Memories of a Czech dissident 1939-2008 – which will be launched in Edinburgh on Wednesday 25 May.

Bisek Family 2 Tomas and Daniela Bisek pictured with their children in Teleci, the week before they fled to Scotland. Daughter Lucie says the children's faces show their anxiety and confusion after being interrogated by secret police.

The Bisek children would be pulled out of class and questioned. They didn't have anything to tell, however, because to protect them their parents had not told them any secrets.

That need for secrecy when she was a child, Lucie says, meant she had learned a lot from reading her father's book.

"I read it in Czech and now I am reading it in English. There were some surprises. I found out so much more about my dad. I think the book is fantastic and I understand my dad's spirituality a lot better. It is such a treasure to read."

Very Rev Dr John Miller, Moderator from 2001-02, first met Mr Bisek in 1969 when they were both students at Union Theological Seminary, New York, in the United States.

"We renewed our friendship when he and Daniela and their family came into exile in Scotland in 1985. Becoming a minister in the Church of Scotland, he became involved in the Iona community. John Miller says.

"I enjoyed his book very much and I recommend it. The Czech secret police at that time were conducting surveillance in a very similar way to the STASI in East Germany, and it is chilling to read the secret file they kept on him."

Book to be launched 25 May

What: Book launch for 'Finding My Way' by Tomas Bisek Hansel Press ISBN 978-1-871828-89-4

Copies of the book will be available to buy at the cover price of £9.95.

Who: Tomas, Daniela and family members will be at the launch

When Wednesday, 25th May at around 1 pm (light lunch served from 12:30)

Where: The Augustine Centre on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh

Very Rev Dr John Miller has contributed this short review of the book.

Review: Finding My Way – memories of a Czech dissident

Quiet-spoken, pastor in the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren, family man with his wife and four children, Tomas Bisek may seem an unlikely dissident. But this book tells how from childhood he developed a resistance to totalitarianism, was an early signatory of the Human Rights document Charter 77, and became a target for secret surveillance and repeated interrogation by the Czech Secret Police.

The authorities cancelled his licence to preach, and he had to work as a labourer in the forest. Eventually he and his wife went into exile with their children, and he became a (in) minister in the Church of Scotland.

The hidden file kept on him by the Secret Police forms an Appendix to the book. It dramatically reveals the threat that permeates Bisek's understated story.

Within Bisek's narrative of self-discovery, exile and return, lies another theme: the search for the elusive presence of the One who Bisek sought to serve.