Not long after his daughter met Austin Wesson while on a mission trip in South Africa in February, John Bouma got a video chat request.
Though Bouma was about 9,000 miles away in Clearwater, Wesson had an important question that April day: He wanted to know whether he had permission to date Bouma’s 19-year-old daughter, Rebekah.
Never miss a local story.
“We talked for a little bit on FaceTime,” John Bouma said. “He was a very serious and respectful young man. I gave him my blessing.”
Just four months later, Wesson, also 19, and Rebekah Bouma were married Friday at the Sedgwick County Courthouse.
On Saturday, the pickup they were riding in went off a country road near Clearwater and struck a tree. Wesson was pronounced dead at the scene. “Bekah,” as she was called by her family, was taken to a Wichita hospital, where she died early Monday.
Fighting back tears at times Monday morning, Rachel Bouma did what no mother ever wants to do – she talked about her teenage daughter in the past tense.
“I think her greatest love in life was to serve other people and invest in them,” Rachel Bouma said. “Bekah was selfless. She loved to get close to people and help with whatever they needed.”
Homeschooled through most of her childhood, Rebekah Bouma attended Trinity Academy in Wichita during her sophomore and junior years of high school before finishing at home. She also took classes at Wichita State University, her mother said.
Tony Ryff, a dean at Trinity, described Rebekah Bouma as a people person who had a strong faith in God.
“She was a delightful young lady,” Ryff said. “She was a great student, had great character, and she loved people. She was the kind of person who looked for ways to encourage friendships among other young ladies.”
Wesson was a surf instructor who grew up in the Cape Town area of South Africa. The couple met while on separate Christian missions in the country this year and spent much of their courting time on FaceTime, Rachel Bouma said.
A whirlwind romance
In June, the couple announced their plans to marry. Rachel Bouma was a witness at the short courthouse ceremony, which was partly done to ease the process of changing Wesson’s immigration status.
The pair had plans to move to Grand Rapids, Mich., to attend school before eventually going on more mission trips.
“Everybody questions (the marriage) because they’re 19,” Rachel Bouma said. “But there was no doubt they were meant for each other and how greatly they loved each other.
“If you saw them together, you would know. They were such a beautiful couple.”
There was no doubt they were meant for each other and how greatly they loved each other.
Rachel Bouma, mother of Rebekah Bouma
At about 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Wesson was driving the Ford F-150 pickup in the 8200 block of 103rd Street, about 2 miles east of Clearwater, according to a Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office account.
For some reason, the truck went off the road, eventually striking a tree. Emergency responders pronounced Wesson dead at the scene while his wife was taken to Via Christi Hospital St. Francis, where she died shortly after 12:30 a.m. on Monday.
Sedgwick County sheriff’s Lt. Lin Dehning said the circumstances of the crash remain under investigation. Earlier Monday, remnants of the truck were still visible at the crash scene next to the tree.
“They were very much in love,” John Bouma said of the new couple. “There was no doubt whatsoever that their love was the real thing.
“They both loved the Lord – they wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”
John, a longtime employee of Textron Aviation, and Rachel Bouma came to the Wichita area nearly 25 years ago. Rebekah Bouma and her four siblings were all raised in the area.
In June, John Bouma was transferred to a position with Bell Helicopter – a division of Textron – in Amarillo, Texas. His wife plans to join him in Texas next year.
Rebekah’s brother Tim Bouma, who is serving in the U.S. Navy, returned home on emergency leave from Washington late Sunday, his mother said.
“The Boumas are a great family,” said Ryff, the Trinity Academy dean. “They are known and respected by many and they have a strong faith in God.
“We don’t always know what God’s plan is, but we know he does have a plan.”
No stranger to service, Rebekah Bouma had also been on mission trips to the Philippines and Albania before her nine-month trip to South Africa as part of The World Race, which is a gap-year program.
In her usual spirit of service, her mother said, Rebekah long ago decided she wanted to be an organ donor.
“She was very clear for a very long time about that,” Rachel Bouma said. “If anything ever happened to her, she said she wanted her organs donated. If she didn’t need them, she wanted someone else to have them.”
Her parents don’t know yet the status of the possible donation, but a transplant team was at the hospital Sunday night, Rachel Bouma said. The family had planned a larger wedding celebration in September, with Wesson’s family coming in from South Africa, but that won’t happen now.
“They were excited about the future,” John Bouma said. “From all appearances, they were meant for each other.”