When 8-year-old Joana received an Operation Christmas Child Box in 2000, she was touched by the gifts and the picture of the young American boy who sent it. The gift-filled shoebox prompted her to become a Christian.
Soon after Joana’s decision to follow Christ, her father also converted to Christianity and later became a pastor.
Years later, Joana continued to treasure the picture of the boy in a cowboy hat. His name, the picture told her, was Tyrel Wolfe.
“I still wanted to thank the person who gave me the box that had meant so much to me,” the Filipino woman said.
In 2011, Joana searched Facebook on a whim, and found multiple men by the name of Tyrel Wolfe. One, she noticed, was in Idaho. In her small picture, the boy stood in front of mountains, and Joana was fairly certain Idaho had mountains.
She sent him a friend request.
On the other side of the world in the tiny town of Midvale, Idaho, Tyrel noticed a friend request from a girl from the Philippines. Over Facebook, they started talking.
Over the next few years, their friendship developed over letters, pictures, and daily Facebook conversations. In 2013, Tyrel saved enough money to fly to the Philippines to meet Joana and her family.
“Once I saw his face, an amazing feeling came over me,” Joana told Samaritan’s Purse. “I was so happy I cried.”
Partway through the 10 day visit, Tyrel asked her father’s permission to date Joana. Joana’s father consented, and Tyrel returned to the U.S. with a mission: to earn enough money to visit Joana again, this time for a longer period.
“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 said. “All I knew was Joana was the one.”
After an engagement party in the Philippines, Tyrel returned to the U.S. The couple began the tedious process with the U.S. Embassy to obtain a visa for Joana.
Months later, Joana was on a plane bound for Idaho. The two were married at Tyrel’s parents’ ranch last month.
In memory of that first fateful shoebox, the newlyweds began a tradition of packing Operation Christmas Child boxes together.
“And when we start having children, we want to involve them in packing boxes too,” Tyrel told Samaritan’s Purse. “I remember as a little boy, I was so excited to know the toys and other items I put in the box would bring joy to another child somewhere else in the world.
“I just didn’t know the joy it would bring back to me one day.”