When humans help out other people, the biggest reward is the feeling we get from committing the good deed. When 7-year-old Tyrel Wolfe decided to send a package to a child in need, he had no idea that he would change his own life with the seeds he was planting.
When Tyrel was 18-years-old, he received a strange message on Facebook. The message was a friend request from a young woman in the Philippines, named Joana Marchan. He realized that this wasn’t the first time he got a message from Joana. The first time was two years earlier, but he just ignored her. This time he was a bit more curious.
Tyrel decided to take a look at the woman’s profile, and just as he thought, they had no common friends. Not only had he never been to the Philippines, but it appeared that the woman had never been to the U.S., either. Especially not to his small town of Midvale, Idaho. Why was she trying to get a hold of him? Tyrel decided to message her back.
Tyrel asked the woman how she knew him. She replied with something completely surprising. “Do you know about Samaritan’s Purse? Are you familiar with that?” she asked. Instantly, memories from a past long-forgotten began to arise in Tyrel’s mind. Unfortunately, Tyrel still had no idea what the woman could possibly want.
Tyrel was only 7-years-old when he participated in a program created by the non-profit organization Samaritan’s Purse, called Operation Christmas Child. Tyrel filled a shoebox with goodies such as toiletries, toys, and school supplies. The box was then sent to a child in need somewhere else in the world. It took eleven years, but he was finally hearing back about the box he sent.
“I think I got your shoebox,” Joana told Tyrel. Tyrel couldn’t believe that after all of those years, the girl who received his shoebox was reaching out to him. His parents seemed to be a bit more skeptical, though. He wanted to make sure she was telling the truth, so he asked her what was in the box. She couldn’t remember most things, but she did remember one thing.
When Tyrel was packing the shoebox, he put in something special: a picture of himself, with his name written on the back. It was unbelievable, but Joana kept the photo! He asked her to describe it. “A cute cowboy with a wooden background,” she answered. Tyrel immediately knew that she was for real. It was an awesome story, but one that was just beginning to unfold.
For the next three weeks, Tyrel and Joana kept in touch by chatting on Facebook. They soon realized that they had many things in common, like their love of Christian music. Over the span of a year and a half, the two became pretty good friends. By the time Tyrel graduated high school, he had made enough money to book a plane ticket to Manila.
Even though he had never traveled before, Tyrel knew he had to see where their relationship could go. Tyrel stayed with Joana and her family for a month. During that time, the two of them realized they were in love. The time came when Tyrel had to go back home, but he promise he would be back. When that time came, Tyrel returned with a very important question.
Tyrel was learning Tagalog, and when he returned for the third time, he had learned enough to ask Joana’s father for her hand in marriage. He agreed to it, but her mother wasn’t so sure. She wanted the couple to move more slowly. So, Tyrel asked her father to join him in the U.S. to meet his family, hoping it would reassure them. It did.
Five months after proposing to Joana, the two were married in October of 2014, on Tyrel’s parents’ ranch. Joana’s dress was a $5 thrift store find and Tyrel wore a barong, a traditional Filipino garment. It was a perfect wedding in the country, but it was made even more perfect by what the couple requested of the guests.
The couple asked for a different type of wedding gift. Instead of presents, they wanted their guests to create a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child. The couple spent their honeymoon driving all the way from Idaho to North Carolina to bring the boxes to Samaritan’s Purse. Along with the typical box items, the couple also included a little something special.
Each box contained a note from Tyrel and Joana, which told their story about how they met and got married. Their purpose wasn’t to give the children a dream to hope for, but to show them what could come out of helping another person. The couple decided that filling shoeboxes would become a yearly tradition. At the same time, Joana was still adjusting to life in the U.S.
Unlike her busy, crowded city in Manila, Joana is now living in the country near Tyrel’s parents’ home in Idaho. Even though moving to the country wasn’t an easy adjustment, with the help of her husband, Joana soon grew to love it. Tyrel’s work requires him to travel, so Joana is able to see a lot of the country. Recently, the couple even announced some exciting news!
After three years of marriage, the happy couple brought their first child, a beautiful baby boy, into the world. They named him Harlann Jun Wolfe. They received messages of congratulations from friends, family, and people who had heard their story. The couple were eternally grateful for one another, and would never forget the moment they first saw each other.
Tyrel spoke about his first visit to Manila, when he was looking for Joana. “And then, I see her, her big, beautiful smile shining out in the crowd. And the biggest question is like, ‘Lord, is this a dream?’” he recalled. All of this was made possible because a 7-year-old boy sent a box and a photo.