Many believers have stuffed a shoebox full of goodies for Operation Christmas Child, a project to bless children around the world run by Samaritan’s Purse. But for one seven-year-old boy in Idaho, it led to a surprising outcome many years later.
In 2000, Tyrel Wolfe packed a shoebox for a young girl his age and added a photo of himself wearing cowboy attire, holding a lariat.
After he turned in his shoebox at church he never gave much thought to the girl who received it 7,000 miles away.
Joana Marchan received the shoebox at a vacation bible school in a suburb of Manila. Not only was a photo of Tyrel included, but also his address.
She wrote a thank you letter to express her appreciation, but it got lost in the mail.
Eleven years later Joana decided to use Facebook to see if she could find the boy who packed her box. She searched for his name and got one hit in Idaho. She took a chance and submitted a friend request.
But Tyrel had never heard of Joana Marchan, so he ignored the request.
Two years later, Joana sent another friend request.
This time, Tyrel sent Joana a message asking how she knew him. She replied, telling him that he was the one who sent her a shoebox in 2000.
As the two got to know each other online, they discovered they shared a common faith in Christ and even enjoyed some of the same music.
Tyrel decided he wanted to meet Joana but had to work to save money for a plane ticket. After his graduation from high school, he flew to Manila a month later. He had been on Christian mission trips before, but had never been to Asia and had never traveled by himself.
It was an emotional meeting. When Joana first saw Tyrel she burst into tears.
“When I finally got there and saw her, I had to pinch myself a couple of times because I thought it was a dream,” he told People Magazine. “I was immediately attracted to her.”
Tyrel instantly noticed a gap between his way of life and the more modest lifestyle of Joana’s family in the Philippines. All eight members of her family slept on the floor of their 10×19-foot house.
Prior to the trip, they had agreed not to officially date until Tyrel had asked her father’s permission in person. Midway through his visit he asked her dad, who happened to be a pastor. He quickly agreed.
“I wanted to spend every moment I could with Joana while I was there, because once I left I didn’t know what would happen next,” Tyrel told People.
Tyrel sensed that Joana was the one for him. After he got back to Idaho, he began to work and save so he could go back to visit.
They stayed in touch via Facebook, and Skyped with each other often before Tyrel returned to the Philippines again in November. This time he stayed for a month.
On his second trip, he asked her father for permission to marry Joana.
The couple held an engagement party in the Philippines and obtained a fiancée visa for Joana.
On October 5, 2014, they got married outdoors on Tyrel’s parents’ 400-acre cattle ranch in Midvale, Idaho. The groom wore a traditional shirt often worn by Filipino grooms.
As a special touch, wedding guests were asked if they would pack an Operation Christmas Child shoebox and bring it to the wedding.
The couple decided to live full-time in the U.S. because the job prospects were better for Tyrel.
“It was a big change and adjustment for me,” Joana told People. “I was raised in the city and now I’m living in a country with much less people and more space, but it’s a beautiful place.”
In June they were blessed with the birth of a baby boy.
To learn more about Operation Christmas Child, go here!