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The ripple effect: Tim Bosma and the gift of community

I knew Tim for 17 years. Many in our circle of friends have known him longer.

This article, written in collaboration, is dedicated to the memory of our friend Tim Bosma.

Sometimes the simplest thing can trigger a memory. The other day a song played on the radio, one that Tim always asked our friend Rebecca to sing at karaoke. As the first verse started on the radio, so did the tears. I could remember Tim clearly, sipping his beer and nodding along to the beat of the song. That’s the way many of our memories are now, coated with a bittersweet glaze.

Tim had an unmistakeable laugh, one you could hear in a crowded hall and recognize right away. He was a storyteller, a loud-mouth and a prankster. He was a pain at times but we loved him like a brother.

Whether it was fixing a furnace or helping someone move, Tim would be there. He was the kind of guy who, aside from exasperating his friends, would show up. He’d always connect with his friends, with a call on his way home from work and an “open door” policy at his place. When something bothered Tim, he wasn’t afraid to speak the honest truth. For Gerry Kikkert, Tim wasn’t just his best friend but someone who saved his life, instrumental in arranging an intervention. Gerry has been sober for five years. 

When Tim introduced us to Sharlene, she fit right in with our group. We were so happy he had met his perfect match. He loved to tease her and she would put up with him, keeping him in line. Aside from being a joker, he did have a sweet side, one very evident when they became parents.

Tim always loved kids, even as a teenager; he was so excited to be a dad. Every time we’d get together, he would proudly tell us about his daughter’s latest achievements, from crawling to walking and talking. But now he won’t watch his own daughter grow up, become a crazy teenager like we were, or scare off her boyfriends. He won’t see his precious girl graduate or walk her down the aisle to the man he deems worthy. That has been stolen from them. For what? A truck? A thrill?

The Donut Diner days
I knew Tim for 17 years. Many in our circle of friends have known him longer. Our group grew out of the Ancaster Christian Reformed Church’s “FISH” youth group. We were not model teenagers but what we lacked in piety, we made up with heart – a genuine caring for our friends and families. A heart for God and a desire to do better. It wasn’t unusual for a campfire, even a light-hearted kangaroo court, to turn to a heated debate about creation, the day of judgement and everything in between.

We spent so much time together that we became “us” or “the group,” also nicknamed “the Dutch” by Tim’s friends from Ancaster High. Most nights we could be found at the Donut Diner, our local meeting spot. We loved camping, karaoke, fielding old cars and just hanging out. The bonds that developed those years are hard to describe. People have said we are unique, but we had a good example in our parents’ Good News church group.

Working to find Tim
Early that Tuesday morning, May 7th, 2013, our friend Mike Vanhouten drove by Tim and Sharlene’s house as he was heading out to work. In the darkness, he thought he saw a police car in the driveway. He pulled in to see what was going on and was told Tim took two guys out for a test drive the night before and never returned. He went up to Sharlene, asking if it was true. She nodded and asked, “Mike, I need you to call the boys.”

When Mike called that morning and told us Tim was missing, we all asked over and over, was he kidding? Was this a prank? As it sank in that this really happened, each of us dropped literally everything. Nothing was more important than being there to help. Tim would have done the same. After getting Mike’s call, Brad Bootsma arrived at Tim and Sharlene’s home soon after and Sharlene asked, “Go find him. Bring him home.”

What began as combing ditches in close proximity to their home soon developed into a huge missing person campaign that spread across the world. “The Dutch,” Tim’s high school friends, Tim’s and Sharlene’s families and their friends – all of us came together, a community bound by one goal. We had to bring him home.

“It was six days in a row that I didn’t see my kids,” said Mike. “I told my wife, ‘Tim can’t go home to his little girl right now, so I’m not stopping until I find him.’”
 
A small rock in a huge pond
As friends and family, we used every avenue of networking we could think of to set up that missing poster and social media campaign. Everyone quickly fell into roles, doing whatever they could to be useful. Some were pounding pavement while others set up administrative support. Some surrounded Sharlene while another’s week was about keeping things “normal” in caring for Tim and Sharlene’s daughter.

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Pete Lise took charge at the make-shift headquarters in Tim’s garage. He marked off road after road on the main map, ensuring that every imaginable area had been plastered with flyers. Tim’s story popped up on Facebook news feeds and spread quickly across the country. A dedicated tip line had to be set up to manage all the calls. According to police, they had never seen such an organized search campaign before.

“Sharlene’s friend Erin Schildermans set up the Facebook event through my account. It was supposed to be a way to communicate with our friends and family,” explained Pete.

“We never imagined it would get so big. Erin, and later Peter Lowe, monitored Facebook around the clock. People were calling from all over. People that we had never even met before just did what was needed when asked. I think it really mattered what we all did that week, it got the calls in.”

“That week was really about the community we were already a part of,” explained Brad. “Pastor John Veenstra, at Tim’s memorial service, talked about throwing a stone into the pond and the ripple effect that is created. If you throw a stone into a mud puddle, there’s only so much water that can be splashed around. We were a small rock thrown into a massive pond. The ripple effect just kept going because of the community we are in.”

It was our whole community, not just friends and family but our church, local community and then all of Canada that became part of this search. Hundreds of people came out to put up flyers and also to drop off food and coffee. Employers gave paid time off, fellow colleagues did our work for us or planted our fields, sisters and mothers took our children into their homes. Community members came forward to help us out financially, with gas cards and to cover our expenses. Local businesses donated printed posters, signs and bumper stickers. There were so many, too many people and companies to thank individually, that made this search possible. They gave us the needed help and hope in such an intense, emotionally exhausting week.

Seven days later, the unthinkable became reality. The day that I’m not even sure how to write about. How do you describe the moment you see your friends’ hearts shatter with one text message: They killed him? Some physically collapsed as they heard the news. We had to pick up others off the road. We were in disbelief as the news swept across the nation, the horrific shock in hearing what happened to his body. Nothing could have prepared us for that announcement and the anger that followed. Later, a somber quiet fell over us, unusual for a group that is very animated and loud. Just as we had many times in that week before, we gathered into a circle and prayed.
“We found him. Not how we wanted to, but we found him,” Mike said, sadness in his voice.

We removed the posters from Tim’s garage and from our cars. The country mourned with us and pulled down the thousands of posters we had taped up. We shared memories of Tim and we got through that day as we had those six days of searching. Together.

Held up by community
At get-togethers, there is still an unexplainable hole, a piece of us taken away. Our grief has come to a stand-still in many ways while waiting for the trial to begin.

“There are so many unanswered questions. How do you deal with this, not knowing how or why? How do you process the gravity of such a horrific thing? It holds you back from fully having closure,” explained Rebecca Bootsma.

Our church, Ancaster CRC, met in prayer two weeks ago to commit the trial’s outcome to God. We are still surrounded by our community and together we will get through these next months.

“I’ve learned to appreciate my community like I didn’t before, to value looking out for other people,” said Brad. “Community was a big part of all of this, a huge part. I’ve realized that community is one of the biggest blessings I have in my life.”

We cannot fully express our gratitude to our community in Christ, all those who helped in the search for Tim. As the trial proceeds, we ask once again for your prayers. Each day, Ancaster CRC will be posting a scripture verse (ancastercrc.org). At 10:00 a.m. as each court day begins, please join us wherever you are with a prayer to support the Bosma family, the crown attorney, judge, the jurors . . . all those a part of Tim’s trial.

  • Krista Dam-VandeKuyt lives in Jerseyville, Ont. with husband Rob and their children Ethan, Eliya and Zoë. They are members at Ancaster Christian Reformed Church.

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