The world is massive and vast, and in the same breath it is tiny and finite. A boy living on one side of the world sends a gift of charity to the other side of the Earth and completely forgets about it. But his kind-hearted gift doesn’t just serves as charity; it becomes more… a whole lot more.
A Chance Message
In 2011 Tyrel Wolfe received an email that made no sense to him. The American 20-something year-old got a Facebook message from a girl who claimed she had a connection to him, but he was skeptical.
How It All Began
Let’s roll back a few years to get a better picture of how this all started. In 2000, Tyrel Wolfe was just a boy of eleven years living in Midville, Idaho. His parents encouraged him to take part in a special charity drive called “Operation Christmas Child”. The global charity organization, Samaritan’s Purse, organized a Christmas drive to fill shoe boxes with toys and necessities for underprivileged kids in other countries.
Instead of whining and disapproving as most kids would, Tyrel was different. He took on the project with excitement and couldn’t wait to get started. He also took an admirable approach to the task, deciding to create a shoe-box that would make the child on the receiving end gasp with surprise and cheer with glee.
Next Step- Research
Tyrel decided he needed some assistance to help him get started. He chose to entrust the help of the popular search engine we all know and love: Google. How could he put together a gift for someone without knowing anything about them? After looking through the organization’s website, and searching more about the country they originate from, The Phillipines, he then felt more prepared to take on the project.
The Best Shoe-Box Ever
The research he conducted proved to be extremely beneficial. A newfound dedication for the project manifested in Tyrel. He now felt obligated, that it was his duty to create the best package for this needy child. He set out to ensure the receiver would tear off the paper and be astounded by it’s contents.
Children In Need
It really warmed Tyrel’s heart that he would really be impacting these children’s lives. The shoe boxes are sent to people in 3rd world countries and regions, and they are distributed to children who come from very poor families. Many of these children are not receiving the necessary resources to live, let alone toys and games. The shoe-box Tyrel was about to put together had to be epic…these kids deserved it more than anyone he’s ever known.
Tyrel found out that the Christmas box would be going to a girl. He at first became disappointed because he knows what boys his age would enjoy, girls on the other hand? He had no clue. Instead of getting frustrated and discouraged, he decided to use his brain and make the best box a little girl could ever ask for.
A Personal Touch
The young boy took it upon himself to add a little more to the box than what was required. He secretly sneaked in a photograph of himself, and his parents dropped his personalized box at the local church. Before Tyrel knew it, his shoebox was being shipped halfway across the world. He didn’t think about that box again.
Random Friend Request
Fast-forward to 2009 when Tyrel receives a friend request from a person he clearly doesn’t know. Since unknown Facebook friend requests are a common occurrence, he didn’t accept the invitation. Wolfe simply declined the friendship request and didn’t think much of it.
Instead of taking the declined request to heart, the girl decided to be strong and persevere. No one achieves what they want to achieve from sitting back and not taking charge. Not giving up proved to change her life forever.
Trying To Make The Connection
Two years later, in 2011, Wolfe received a friend request once again from the same girl. This time he was intrigued and accepted the request. The girl’s name was Joana Marchan and she was from the Philippines. Now Wolfe knew that he had no friends there so he proceeded to ask her how they “knew each-other”. Joana told him about a shoebox she received as a child from a charity drive called, “Operation Christmas Child”. She also told him about the photograph he had placed inside the box.
At first Wolfe had to jog his memory to actually put two and two together. His first action was to show his parents the email that he received. Despite feeling sure that this was indeed real, his parents were more skeptical about the story and told Wolfe to ask the girl to describe the so-called picture she had.
The Young Cowboy
Wolfe’s parents got more than they expected when Joana started to describe the picture of Tyrel, detail for detail. She described a young boy in a cowboy outfit that matched the exact description of the photo he had placed inside the shoebox. Everyone’s jaws hit the floor.
Is It A Scam?
At this point both Tyrel and his parents became alarmed. Was this woman for real or was it just a joke gone too far? They did have to admit, she had described the photograph perfectly…no explaining that…
Connecting For The First Time
After Joana showed Tyrel that she was the real deal, they started to communicate online. One of the first things they learned about each-other was that they both loved Christian music – quite a fitting theme to share. Before they knew it, a year had passed since they started chatting and things were going to advance even more.
Connecting On A Deeper Level
Something that stood out for both of them was that aside from just enjoying Christian music, they both had a deep religious connection. Joana and Tyrel had unwavering faith in Christianity that just proved to them how similar they were.
The Waiting Game
The two continued to talk to each other via Facebook for about a year and a half. Tyrel longed to visit his mysterious long lost friend, but he unfortunately didn’t have the money to make the long trek. The in-person meeting would have to wait.
Money In The Bank!
After working tirelessly for months on end, Tyrel had finally saved up! He had enough money to embark on the long awaited journey of a lifetime…all aboard!
Making The Trip
Having a long distance friendship was proving to be quite difficult so Tyrel Wolfe saved up money for an airplane ticket and announced that he was flying to Manila. He understood that travelling halfway around the world to meet some girl he had chatted with online was going to be quite risky.
Thinking It Over
In an interview with People, Tyrel recalls the contemplation he endured before taking the trip to 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.”
Love At First Sight
As you can imagine, the flight to the Philippines was quite nerve-wracking for Tyrel. But then, as soon as he walked out into the airport terminal, all the nerves just disappeared. And the moment that they saw each-other for the first time, something happened. “I was immediately attracted to her,” he said in an interview. He felt that it was love at first sight.
Too Good To Be true
“When I finally got there and saw her, I had to punch myself a couple times because I thought it was a dream,” Wolfe remembers. Luckily for him, she felt the exact same way about him.
A Different World
Since their first meeting was a success, he ended up staying with her family during his trip. But the stay was an eye-opening experience for him seeing as their lifestyle was so different from his back in America.
A New Perspective
Joana’s family lived in a small house that was 10-by-9 feet and only minimally furnished. What really surprised Tyrel was that all of her eight family members slept in one room on the floor. “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,” Wolfe explained.
On Cloud Nine
The trip was going so well! Not only did Tyrel get to see an amazingly beautiful country, he also was really connecting with his old shoe-box pal. The two were overjoyed with happiness!
After his 10-day trip ended, he remembers the feeling that he hadn’t spent nearly enough time with Joana. It was heart-breaking for both of them to separate and he made her a promise that he would come back for her.
For the following weeks, Wolfe felt something missing in his relationship with Marchan. There was no way that he could continue his life through Skype and texting so he devised a plan that would make their situation better.
Tyrel Wolfe worked alongside his dad as a trail-and-bridge builder for state parks and saved up money to finance another trip to the Philippines. Only this time he was not going to make the trip alone.
Tyrel’s father was supportive of his son’s decision to go back for Joana, but his mother wasn’t. Tyrel’s mother was less enthusiastic about the idea because she felt they were still young and didn’t know each-other well enough. But when it comes to the heart, there’s no stopping what it wants.
Wolfe convinced his father to take the flight with him to visit Joana and her family. This put his mother at ease because she knew that Tyrel would have someone else there to guide his decision. Tyrel was ecstatic that he was going to fly back to the love of his life, and even more so that his father would accompany him.
It would be just like the good ole days…a father son trip worth remembering! Tyrel couldn’t be happier to have his dad in tow on the possibly most important trip of his life.
Eventually they made the long flight to Manila and it was time to introduce his father to Joana, her parents and her family. Even with different languages and social norms separating the families, they got along just fine! What a relief for Tyrel and Joana!
The Important Figure
What no-one knew was that the meeting between their fathers was more than just a cute get-together and introduction. Joana’s mother said to Tyrel’s father, “You are a sign from God that we are allowing Tyrel and Joana to marry. If you had not come, we wouldn’t have let the relationship continue.”
Returning For Her
Following both families’ traditions, Tyrel approached Joana’s father and asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage, and he happily said yes. They threw them an engagement party there.
No Frowns Here!
Tyrel called home and was excited to hear his mom was on board with the marriage as well, despite her earlier opinions. Mother’s approval really does trump all others!
Going The Extra Mile
Tyrel Wolfe decided to take things a step further and even started learning to speak Tagalog. It wasn’t necessary, but he felt it would be respectful to learn Joana’s parents’ native language to communicate with them.
Where To Marry And Live
The best location for their wedding was decided to be America. Since Tyrel had a secure job in America, they decided that following the wedding they would live in Tyrel’s hometown. But first they needed to ensure that Joana could get a visa to fly in.
Tying The Knot
Before they knew it, Joana’s family flew to the U.S. for the wedding. Their wedding ceremony was unique, with the groom donning a “barong” – a Filipino wedding garment. The ceremony took place on the Wolfe ranch in October 2014. But there was something more unique that took place that day.
Christmas Charity Boxes
As a tribute to their own love, the couple asked guests to make their own Christmas charity shoe boxes. But that wasn’t all. As part of their vows, Tyrel and Joana promised to make Christmas charity shoe boxes every single year. After the wedding, the couple drove to North Carolina to deliver all the boxes to Samaritan’s Purse.
Behind The Scenes
Assistant director of “Operation Christmas Child”, Rachel Mills, retells the newlyweds visit, “They were excited to see behind the scenes of where it all happened for them. We want these children to experience love, and that’s exactly what they found. It was like a needle in a haystack.”
Just take a second and think about how lucky these two are! This is the greatest love story we’ve heard in a long long time.
No Mixed Messages
In each one of the couple’s shoe boxes, they put a short note that told of their story. There was the risk however, that children might get the wrong message from their story – giving them some unrealistic fantasy about pairing up with someone on the other side of the world. They carefully worded their notes, just highlighting how beautiful the initiative was.
Paying It Forward
“We don’t want to give them some fantasy, but we do want to show that we care and want to share our love,” Wolfe told. “We both feel so blessed and grateful that Operation Christmas Child brought us together.” Now that’s called paying it forward.
Welcome To America!
Can you believe Joana’s first time traveling to America was on her big move there with her new husband! How did she know she would like the USA? We guess she put a lot of trust into Tyrel, he would have to show his lady the ropes of this foreign land.
Following their wedding, the newlyweds decided to stay in the States. Coming for the wedding was actually Joana’s first time coming to America, and going to meet her in the Philippines was Tyrel’s first time traveling to Asia. We can only imagine the culture shock they both must have experienced.
Where To Go?
It took awhile for the couple to decide on an area in the U.S. With so many options, they were stumped regarding what to do and where to go.
Near To Mom And Dad
The couple live in Midville, Georgia, which is just a quarter mile from where Tyrel’s parents live which means they’re always close by. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for Joana.
Missing Her Parents
Although she knows that moving to the Philippines wouldn’t be practical, Joana obviously misses her parents and family. But since Tyrel has a good job, they can support themselves and even send money to her parents back in Manila too.
From The City To The Country
When People Magazine interviewed Joana about what it felt like suddenly to live in the U.S. she answered, “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.”
Adding One More
She may have felt that there were fewer people on the countryside, but in May 2017 there was one more person. Joana and Tyrel welcomed a baby boy into their lives after having been married for 3 years.
Lots Of Support
When word spread of their new baby, the online world erupted with messages of support and love. The fairytale couple was now going to have a fairytale ending!
Harlann Jun Wolfe
They announced the name of their baby for the world to know – Harlann Jun Wolfe. What a nice mix of an Asian and Western name…we love it!
For reasons beyond their control, Joana’s parents couldn’t fly in for their wedding. The newlyweds made a promise to her parents that they would make a second wedding ceremony in the Philippines that they could take part in.
Can you believe that Tyrel and Joana Skyped their wedding to Joana’s family in the Philippines so that they wouldn’t miss a beat…how sweet!
Saying Thank You
Over a decade later and everyone asked Joana why she decided to reach out to the boy who sent her the shoebox. She explained that she just wanted to say thank you. She also wanted to see where this boy was at in his life – was he studying or working? But it wasn’t the first thank-you that she had sent.
We Can’t Believe It
We can’t believe just what happened next. When did he find out? Did she know what happened? Wow, this is crazy…
Many years earlier, Joana sent a letter of thanks to the anonymous boy who had sent her the shoebox of goodies, but he never got it. The letter might have gotten lost in the mail, but the message arrived at the perfect time.
This is just one story of two people who were influenced by “Operation Christmas Child”. Today more than 113 million shoeboxes have been distributed to over 130 countries since the project’s inception in 1993.
Donating to organizations such as this amazing one is such a crucial thing. We’re all down at times in our lives, it’s important to lift others up when they need it most. Doing a small act of kindness by sending a box overseas does wonders, bonding countries, children, and best of all, putting smiles on little ones faces.
An Unreal Love Story
The unbelievable love story of Tyrel and Joana just proves that love can pop out of nowhere. When a photograph was all that could link these two, who would have thought that after 11 years they would find each-other? Love will always find you, no matter who you are, and especially no matter where you are.