Many times, it is the smallest things in life that can have the biggest impact on our futures. Take Tyrel Wolfe and Joana Marchan, as an example. They were two people who were from completely opposite sides of the world and they were brought together by a very small and simple act of kindness. Years went by without either of them giving the other a thought. Due to the modern convenience of social media, their lives were brought together in the most unexpected and extraordinary way. So began an extraordinary chain of events, and it lead to one of the most unforgettable stories of connection.
A Strange Request
It was a normal day for 18-year-old Tyrel Wolfe. He was going about his normal daily routine when he received a rather odd friend request on Facebook. For everyone who uses Facebook, we know that this is bound to happen every once in a while. More often than not, these friend requests are full of spam. Tyrel kept this in mind and just deleted the friend request and moved on with his life. He didn’t really put much thought into it at the time.
The ‘random woman’ who had sent the friend request was a woman named Joana Marchan, and she was a resident of the Philippines. Tyrel had never been to the Philippines in his life, and he didn’t exactly know anybody by the name of Joana Marchan. After looking through her profile, he realized that the woman had never been to the United States, never mind Tyrel’s small town in Idaho. Although random messages from strangers are common on social media platforms, the woman’s profile still stuck with him.
Tyrell put the entire dilemma out of his head, and he figured that she had the wrong person, or she was a scammer or spammer. He decided to go on with his life normally and didn’t reply to the message. Still, for some reason, he felt as though he probably should have answered the message. His life proceeded to go back to normal, but then he got another strange request on Facebook.
Two years had passed until Tyrel found himself facing another odd occurrence on Facebook. However, this incident would essentially have a very different outcome than the first. Tyrel received another request from Joana, and he was even more intrigued. Why was this woman insistent on reaching out to him? Tyrel went through this woman’s profile once more and still found nothing. Although, his interested was now piqued, and he had to know the truth.
With no friends in common, Tyrel was completely blanking on how he could possibly know who this woman was. Tyrell Wolfe was so interested in this Filipina woman that he couldn’t help himself from trying to get to the bottom of the story.
After lots of thinking, Tyrel decided he was going to reach out to the mysterious woman and find out the full story from her. He wanted to get her off of his mind once and for all. One day, he mustered all the courage he could and decided to message her back. After pressing over what he would write to her, Tyrel decided that he would keep his message totally simple and to the point. He decided to write, “How do you know me?”, but the message he would receive back was very far from what he expected.
She responded rather quickly, and when he read her response, it raised even more questions than answers. Instead of just answering his short question, Joana sent him another question. Joana asked him if he knew about something called Samaritan’s Purse. Tyrel was sure that it was an organization, but he didn’t know where he had heard of it. After thinking about it for a while, it all came back to him.
Tyrel remembered back to when he was a young boy of 7. He remembered that he had been a part of a program called ‘Operation Christmas Child’, which is an organization created by a non-profit called Samaritan’s Purse. Every year the organization would pack shoeboxes full of gifts for less fortunate children around the world for Christmas. Inside these boxes were things like small toys, toiletries, and even school supplies. Tyrel knew what she was talking about, but he still didn’t understand why she would be contacting him about a program he had been in as a child.
The next message that he received from Joana would answer all of his questions. The message said that she was the one who had been the recipient of his Christmas shoebox gift all those years prior. Tyrel was completely shocked. He couldn’t believe for a second that the recipient of his shoebox had remembered his name for so many years and had decided to reach out to him on Facebook. But while Tyrel was surprised, other people who were close to him were very concerned.
Everyone who was close to Tyrel were concerned about the situation, undoubtedly his parents. They all feared that Joana-if that even was her real name- was out to pray on Tyrel. They were afraid that he was trying to gain his trust and deceive him online. They thought that the only way to find out if she was telling the truth by testing her. Tyrel did just that, to make sure that she was authentic and not an internet scammer.
The only test that Tyrel could think of to make sure that she was telling the truth was to verify the contents of the present. Unfortunately, Joana didn’t exactly remember everything that was in the shoebox. But she did, however, remember one very important detail.
While Joana didn’t exactly remember everything that was in the shoebox, she did remember a good portion of the items. All of the items she remembered were correct, but that still wasn’t exactly enough to convince Tyrel that she was telling the truth about receiving the gift he had sent to her all those years ago. However, she did remember one specific thing that was in the box, and that was a photograph. Tyrel recalled that he had placed a picture of himself in the gift box. He asked her to describe the photo as much as possible.
Joana’s response came as a huge shock to Tyrel. In the reply message, she wrote that she had received a photo of “a cute cowboy with a wooden background.” Tyrel knew this photo very well, and it was the exact photo he had placed inside of the shoebox all those years ago. Unbelievably enough, the shoebox had made its way to this little girl in the Philippines. Not only had she received the box, but she kept the photo and the name of the person who sent her the gift one fateful Christmas. Tyrel knew 100% that she was now telling the truth from the whole thing.
As nice as the situation was, there still remained a single question. Did she have other intentions? Or did she just want to thank him from all those years ago. Joana thanked Tyrel for the nice Christmas gift, and for most people that would simply be it and then they would go on with their daily lives. However, this was not Joana’s intention. She wanted to get to know him.
As time went on, they continued talking on the internet. They began speaking on a daily basis, and they found out that they had a lot in common with each other. The pair discovered that they are both big fans of Christian music. They continued to talk online, and before they knew it, a year and a half had passed. Over the course of this year, Tyrel had graduated from high school and he was planning his next steps for his future. He also had a very big travel plan decided.
Early on into his conversations with Joana, Tyrel had begun to save up some money. He was convinced that the two of them would eventually meet, and after he graduated, he put this plan into action. One day, he sent her a message asking if he could visit her in the Philippines. Joana was more than ecstatic to have Tyrel come to visit.
Tyrel had put in so many hours at work in order to save up for the trip of a lifetime. Finally, when he had enough saved up, he went ahead and bought a ticket to Manila, which is the capital of the Philippines. However, this was his first time traveling alone, and he was incredibly nervous. There were so many questions running through his head.
The time finally came and Tyrel boarded the plane to the Philippines. After his 14 hour trip, Joana was at the airport waiting to greet him into her country. Joana and her family all went to extra lengths to welcome Tyrel into their home. Tyrel said that it seemed like he was already a part of the family going by the way the family treated him. There was such a strong connection between the two friends that something special happened. Tyrel tried to stay in the Philippines as long as he could, and soon a month had gone by and he was still in the Philippines with Joana. The time had gone by so fast and at this point, the two were much closer than just friends.
By the end of Tyrel’s visit, Joana and Tyrel had each developed romantic feelings for the other, but sadly the time had come for him to go home. His trip had already been extended by a long period of time, but it was time to go home and continue with his life. They promised that this would not be last time that the pair met, but neither of them knew what to do about the separation. It seemed that it would be difficult to maintain their relationship across thousands of miles. As soon as Tyrel touched down in his small town in Idaho, he began to save up money again. He was determined to go back to the Philippines to visit Joana once more, and pretty soon, he made it happen. His second trip to visit her was even better. They realized that they had fallen in love with each other, making this separation a lot harder than the first. Yet, this time, Tyrel had a plan, and it was one that would change both of their lives forever.
By Tyrel’s third trip to visit Joana, he had learned enough Tagalog, which is the native tongue of the Philippines. He used these skills to speak with Joana’s father about his impending future with his daughter. In what seemed to be an abrupt request, he asked Joana’s hand in marriage. Joana’s father accepted Tyrel’s request to marry his daughter, but not everyone was as pleased with the relationship as he was. There was a singular person in Joana’s life whose opinion mattered a great deal. The entirety of their relationship laid in the hands of this one person. The person who was the most hesitant about the pair’s relationship was Joana’s mother. She felt as though the relationship was moving too quickly, and she wanted them to slow down and get to know each other more before getting married so abruptly. Tyrel respected her opinion. He felt that she felt this way because he was a foreigner and Joana’s family didn’t feel as though they were aware of his intentions well enough to agree to marriage just yet. So, Tyrel got a little help from reinforcements.
Tyrel felt as though the situation could be cleared up if Joana’s family were able to meet someone from his family. Tyrel convinced his father that it would be a good idea for him to come to the Philippines and meet Joana’s family. Tyrel’s father agreed to the request, and he understood that his son was very intent on marrying Joana and that he wanted to do it right. Of course, he wasn’t going to just marry Joana without her mother’s approval. After meeting with Tyrel’s father, Joana’s mother finally agreed and gave her blessing for the couple to marry. The wedding plans then moved very swiftly after, and they got married in October of 2014 with a simple wedding at Tyrel’s parent’s ranch. They married about five months after Tyrel proposed. Joana wore a wedding gown that she purchased from a thrift store for just $5, and Tyrel wore a traditional Filipino garment called a ‘barong’. What made the wedding even more special was what the couple asked from the guests in lieu of wedding gifts.
Joana and Tyrel didn’t have a typical love story, and so they didn’t want a traditional wedding either. They didn’t want anything too fancy, and they didn’t even ask for wedding gifts. They felt as though they were already blessed in the way that the two were brought together, and they felt it was necessary for them . to pay it forward and give others the chance to connect in the same way. The guests would be giving to charity and the needy, and they asked the guests to bring shoeboxes! However, not just normal shoeboxes, but they were asking for something very special in light of how the two met. Tyrel and Joana asked their guests to bring shoeboxes of small gifts to be donated to Operation Christmas Child, which is the same organization that brought them together. The couple spent their honeymoon taking all of the shoeboxes from Idaho to North Carolina. They drove to donate them to Operation Christmas Child in person. However, they had made one additional request of the guests.Each of the wedding guests were asked to put a special note in their shoebox, much like the one Tyrel had written for Joana. Many would assume that they included the note to give underprivileged children a fantasy to aspire to. But they actually put the notes in the shoeboxes to teach others about what kind of good things can come out of helping people in need.
After the wedding, the couple continued in their tradition of giving shoebox gifts every year to Operation Christmas Child. After their wedding, Joana decided to move to the UNited States with Tyrel. Since Tyrel was often required to travel for work, Joana has seen much of the United States. Since she once lived in a bustling city, adjusting to the quiet country life wasn’t necessarily easy. However, she managed to love it with the help of her husband and his family. Three years after getting married, the couple were expecting a new member of the family. Joana and Tyrel welcomed a baby boy to their small family named Harlann Jun Wolfe. Four years after their wedding, the couple was still living out their happy lives in Idaho, traveling frequently. They will never forget how they were brought together and the incredible story that followed. And to think, it was all thanks to a shoebox and a photograph.
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