In the year 2000, 7-year-old Tyrel Wolfe and his family participated in the Operation Christmas Child program, a program whereby churches and organizations all over the nation partner with Samaritan’s Purse to send toys, school supplies, activities, small toiletries, and other gifts to children in third-world countries at Christmas time.
Faith It reported that the Christmas Child Program’s website states that, since 1993, their organization has collected and delivered more than 135 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 150 countries.
Tyrel was from Idaho, and the 7-year-old picked and packed items for a young girl his own age, then included a photo of himself sporting a cowboy outfit in the package. Tyrel enjoyed the project and thought about the child who would receive his gift, but once the box was returned to the church and sent overseas, it never crossed his mind again.
But not so for the little girl in the Philippines who received the package: Tyrel’s gift completely changed her life.
Almost 10 years later, in 2009, Tyrel received a Facebook friend request from a young woman by the name of Joana Marchan, but because he was not familiar with the name, he ignored her request and forgot all about it.
Then, two years later, Joana Marchan sent him another request. Now Tyrel was curious about who she was and why she wanted to be friends with him, so he sent Joana a message asking how she knew him.
Joana replied, telling him just how much that shoebox gift he’d sent to her 11 years ago had meant to her, and that she had been trying to connect with him. As it turned out that, years ago, she had even written him a thank-you note, but it must have got lost in the mail.
“I was curious as to what he was like now,” Joana said. “Was he going to college like me?”
Tyrel’s mother reminded him of his involvement in the Christmas Child Program, so he continued his conversation with Joana, and an unexpected friendship developed.
It turns out the two young people shared a number of common interests, including their love of music. Conversation between them came very naturally, and after a year of corresponding, they decided to meet in person.
In May 2013, Tyrel graduated from high school, and by that time he’d saved up enough money working for his father to fly to Quezon City and spent 10 days in the Philippines.
“I knew I was taking a big risk. I had never traveled alone, let alone to a foreign country before, and I was meeting people I didn’t know or even knew really existed.”
Still, he was very nervous, anxious, and excited, but he could never have guessed that this trip of a lifetime would lead him to his future wife.
“When I finally got there and saw her, I had to punch myself a couple times because I thought it was a dream. I was immediately attracted to her.”
Meeting Joana’s family opened Tyrel’s eyes to just how blessed he really is. All eight members of the Marchan family slept on the floor of their house, which measured just 10 by 15 feet.
“Here in America, a lot of people are blessed with a lot of things, and after seeing Joana’s home, I’ve gained a different outlook on how people live.”
After one of the hardest goodbyes Tyrel’s ever experienced, he returned home, but the young couple stayed in constant communication via Facebook and Skype, before Tyrel returned to the Philippines again in November.
This time, he stayed for a full month, then asked Joana’s father for her hand in marriage. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, the two lovers became engaged. Joana and Tyrel were married on October 5, 2014, on the Wolf family ranch in Idaho.
Tyrel realized that by keeping his current job he would be able to support himself, Joana, and Joana’s family, so the couple decided to live in the United States.
Joana said, “It was a big change and adjustment for me.”
“I was raised in the city and now I’m living in the country with much less people and more space, but it’s a beautiful place.”
The young couple still live in Midvale, Idaho, with their young son who was born in June. And, they’ve committed themselves to packing a Samaritan’s Purse shoebox every holiday season with something a little special added – a personal note that tells their story.
“We don’t want to give them some fantasy, but we do want to show that we care and want to share our love,” Tyrel says.
“We both feel so blessed and grateful that Operation Christmas Child brought us together.”
[Featured Image by Frolova_Elena/Shutterstock]