Tuesday morning, news that police had found the remains of missing Ancaster, Ont. man Tim Bosma rippled across the country. In response, thousands of Canadians near and far are reaching out to the family under a banner of faith.
The Christian Reformed Church that the Bosma's belong to is like one big, extended family, their members say. And like family, when one of their own has to deal with tragedy, they all come together to help them though.
"When people have a hard time — and in this case it is a particularly hard time — we come around them like a family would," Henry Hess, director of communications for the Christian Reformed Church North America said.
"We've been sharing information about the family and been on the lookout fot the truck. We've been working as an extended family to try to look out when someone is in trouble."
When news of his disappearance first broke, it was those closest to Bosma, his family, friends and congregation at the Ancaster Christian Reformed Church where he was a member, that led the campaign to find him. They launched a widespread social media information campaign, blanketed nearby towns with flyers and mapped out searches on foot around his home. Tuesday, when the family learned the terrible news and in the painful hours after, pastor John Veenstra was with them in their home.
"God is going to use the members of this congregation and the folks that love them and care for them to help them work this through," he said. "The phones are going crazy with folks wondering what they can do and what they can bring. [...] The best thing that I can do for them at this point is to offer them a hug and to let them cry and to let them weep, to pray with them and just to be with them. For them, this is going to be a long road."
Ed Glasbergen, a member of the church, said when he found out, he said the first thing he did was pray for Bosma's family.
"It's part of our family, it really is. It just hits you like a ton of bricks. It was hard to imagine a good outcome, but we really prayed for a good outcome."
The extended family of the church creates a support network for Bosma's family, but it's really their faith that will help them heal, Glasbergen said, even as they search for answers to the tragedy. The Christian Reformed Church is deeply connected with the ritual of prayer, which helps them find comfort during times of distress.
"I don't understand why this has to transpire. There are certainly questions everybody asks," he said.
"Our hearts go out to them and the church will stand right beside them every step of the way."
A history of congregation
Before the second world war, there was only one Christian Reformed Church in Canada — it happened to be in Hamilton, Ont. After the war, many Dutch immigrants relocated to Canada. Largely farm families with Christian Reformed faiths, they settled in rural parts of the country according to Michael D. Fallon, the Christian Reformed Campus Minister at McMaster University and a member of the church.
"A lot of the immigration was supported by the American branch of the Christian Reformed Church. They helped them get established and build churches they could create communities around," he said.
He said the close-knit aspect of the community is multilayered. There's their faith, of course, but also the cultural aspect because so many members have Dutch backgrounds. The denomination itself is also relatively small, with 300,000 members in North America and only 25 per cent of those living in Canada. All of this creates a feeling of closeness that Fallon described as "multi-layered."
Every event in the church is held in the middle of service, Fallon explained, rather than at a later, separate event. Baptisms, for example, are an event for the entire church to partake in during Sunday service, not just family.
"The entire congregation is there for the baptism. They are commiting to play a role in the upbringing of that child," Fallon said.
Bosma's two-year old daughter was baptized in just such a ceremony at their Ancaster church in 2011.
In such a troubling case as Bosma's disappearance and death, though, Fallon said the connection is goes beyond the walls of the church.
"But it's fair to say this totally transcends to the non-Christian community as well. It's inspiring," Fallon said of the support for the Bosma family from people of all walks of life.
"In the midst of all this horror, people are reaching out to each other."