In 2000, a little boy in Idaho named Tyrel Wolfe took part in a gift drive for underprivileged children around the world. He was excited to participate but had no idea that many years later, that seemingly small act would end up changing his life forever. This is a true and touching story about the massive ripple effect that kindness can have on our world. It might just change the way you think about charity and the act of helping others.
Operation Christmas Child
Seven-year-old Tyrel “Ty” Wolfe was growing up in Idaho in 2000. In December, young Ty decided to participate in a program called Operation Christmas Child.
This charitable program is organized by a humanitarian aid organization called Samaritan’s Purse, and it delivers gift-filled shoeboxes to less-fortunate children all around the world every year. Ty was excited to be a part of Operation Christmas Child and got to work selecting which gifts to include.
Deciding What To Put In The Shoebox
Little Ty thought hard about what he would put into the shoebox that would end up being mailed to a child in some faraway foreign country. It was a big decision for the seven-year-old to make!
Samaritan’s Purse lets participants decide what types of things they want to pack in these special Christmas packages. The presents can include everything from toys to school supplies and even hygiene items… whatever the sender feels like including.
One Requirement For All Gift Senders
Samaritan’s Purse gives people some flexibility in the gifts they send through Operation Christmas Child, but there is one requirement. Every participant has to include a photo of themselves for the recipient, so the child could see who had sent their present.
Ty carefully packed up his shoebox for its unknown recipient. Finally, he slipped in a photo of himself. He then handed the shoebox to his aunt, who brought it church to church and dropped it off.
Shipped Off Into The Great Unknown
Although Ty had no idea where his specially-packed shoebox was going, he was thrilled to be a part of Operation Christmas Child that year. After all, the season is all about giving and about helping others, and that’s exactly what he got to do.
He hoped that his present got to its destination safely and was proud that he might be bringing a less-fortunate child some happiness and comfort at Christmastime.
The Years Went By
Time passed, as it tends to do, and Ty grew up. He had a happy life in small-town Idaho, and he was pretty close to his family and friends.
Then one ordinary day, he received a strange Facebook friend request that he decided to ignore. He didn’t recognize the person’s name, Joana Marchan, and had never visited the Philippines which is where she lived. By then 18 years old, the request didn’t weigh much on his mind after he deleted it.
Eventually, Ty forgot all about the Facebook incident. And then déjà vu struck — a couple of years later, he received another friend request. The sender? Joana Marchan again. Ty was curious now as the memory of the first request came back. He decided to take it a little more seriously this time around.
Could he know this person? Was she a friend of someone he knew? Although he couldn’t figure out a connection with this Joana Marchan, Ty accepted the request.
When Ty received Joana’s second friend request in 2011, he determined that they had no mutual friends and had never even visited each other’s countries.
Now, he really wanted to find out how she thought she knew him. So after opening the request and clicking “confirm,” he wrote a message and asked her flat-out what their connection was. It was a pretty normal thing to ask a complete stranger who had sent two friend requests.
Blast From The Past
At first, Ty was confused by Joana’s reply to his message. Her response was just a simple question: “you know about the Samaritan’s Purse?” and he didn’t understand at first. After all, it had been 11 years since he’d participated in Operation Christmas Child and he hadn’t thought of it much over that time.
Joana’s question brought everything back in a rush, though. He was totally stunned. Was this the person that his shoebox had been delivered to?
Joana Had Written A Thank-You Note
When he mailed that Operation Christmas Child package off as a seven-year-old, Ty had no idea where it was headed. He had no way to know that the shoebox made its way 7,000 miles to the other side of the planet to reach a little girl named Joana. She was at vacation Bible school in Manila when she received the package.
Touched by the gift, Joana wrote a thank you note. It never reached him. For 11 years, she thought about Ty and how she could ever reach him.
She Didn’t Give Up
When Joana had received her Operation Christmas Child Box in 2000, she was incredibly touched. A complete stranger thousands of miles away had gone out of his way to give her a special holiday gift. And she wanted to thank him.
Even though the letter she mailed never reached Ty, she didn’t give up on finding him. She kept his information and kept searching. It turns out that there are a lot of people with the name Tyrel Wolfe, so Joana chose one of them on Facebook and sent a friend request.
Ty’s Family Was Skeptical Of Joana’s Story
Ty’s family was not sure they believed Joana’s story. After all, internet scams are incredibly common and they’d hate to see the young man fall victim to a con. The people closest to Ty warned him that Joana might not be who she claimed to be and encouraged him to find out for sure whether she was someone to be trusted.
Fortunately, he had a way to do this. Ty asked Joana what had been in her Christmas package that year so long ago.
The Giveaway Detail
When Ty asked Joana about the contents of his gift box, she wasn’t able to remember any specifics. This wasn’t looking good, he thought and started to prepare himself to cut off contact with this stranger on Facebook.
And then Joana included the one detail that proved exactly who she was. The last thing Ty had put into the shoebox was a photo of himself. Joana told him about it now and was able to describe everything about it. She even called him a “cute cowboy” because of the outfit he was wearing!
They Started To Chat On A Regular Basis
Ty was so relieved. Without question, Joana was exactly who she said she was, and he wanted to get to know her better. The feeling was mutual. The two newly-connected friends started chatting on a daily basis and found out that they had lots in common.
For starters, they were both students and both enjoyed listening to and playing music. As they discovered more shared interests, their chats bloomed into a sweet friendship.
Ty Started Saving Up To Visit Joana
Ty and Joana’s story was just beginning. Over the next year, they continued to chat and their relationship developed from friendship to something more. They wanted to see each other in person.
Ty saved money from his job with the state parks in order to pay for a visit to see Joana in her hometown of Manila. Finally, in May 2013, he had enough to cover the cost of a plane ticket to the Philippines.
The Flight Is Booked!
As soon as he’d raised enough money, Ty messaged Joana and booked his flight to see her in the Philippines. As excited as he was, there was still some uncertainty.
“I knew I was taking a big risk,” he later told PEOPLE. “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.” Despite any misgivings, he made the 7,000-mile journey to meet Joanna.
Any hesitation that had been present disappeared the moment that Ty and Joana finally met in person. “Once I saw his face, an amazing feeling came over me. I was so happy I cried,” Joana said. Her family welcomed the young man into their home.
Ty felt the same, recalling, “When I finally got there and saw her, I had to pinch myself a couple times because I thought it was a dream.”
The Quickest 10 Days Ever
Ty’s 10-day trip to see Joana flew by in a flash. Before he knew it, it was time for him to be heading back to Idaho. He did not want to leave her side.
The lovebirds knew they were meant to be together, they just needed to figure out how to make that happen. Ty put in extra hours at work to purchase his next plane ticket to Manila. This time, he would stay for an entire month.
An Exciting Development
Just in time to spend the holidays together, Ty returned to Joana in the Philippines. This time, his visit would last for an entire month, and he made the most of it.
While in Manila, Ty asked for Joana’s father’s permission to propose to his daughter. He received the blessing, but there was an unexpected roadblock in the way: Ty’s mother, Rocel. She felt that the couple was too young to get married and that they should wait.
Ty’s Father Visits Manila
It would take a lot to stand in the way of Ty and Joana’s relationship. Ty convinced his father, Ivan, to travel to the Philippines to meet Joana and the Marchan family. Ivan finally agreed and embarked on a 10-day trip in May of 2014.
He was welcomed into Joana’s family just as Ty had been. Joana’s mother told Ivan, “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.” It was on! The two were now free to get married.
True Love Wins Out!
Now that the couple had both their families’ blessing to start a life together as husband and wife, they had some very important decisions to make. The most important one was where to live. After all, a long-distance marriage was not what they were looking for.
Ty had a very good job, one that would be difficult to give up. He was even able to send money to Joana’s family back home each month. So the lovebirds decided that they’d make their home together in the United States.
Moving To America
To prepare for their new life together in the United States, Joana received a visa from the embassy in Manila in August 2014. By September, she and Ty had left the Philippines and were on the way to their new home in Idaho.
They opted to stay close to Ty’s family and moved into a house about a quarter a mile away from his parents. Now it was time to finally tie the knot!
After an international journey and months of being separated, Ty Wolfe and Joana Marchel finally got married on October 5, 2014. The gorgeous wedding was held outdoors at Ty’s parents’ ranch.
Unfortunately, Joana’s parents were unable to get visas in time so they couldn’t attend the wedding in person. But Ty made sure to honor them and their country by wearing a traditional Filipino garment, known as a barong, for the marriage ceremony.
The Sweetest Wedding Gift Request
In a touching tribute to the way that they had met, Ty and Joana asked that each wedding guest bring a shoebox full of gifts. Of course, the special packages would be donated to Samaritan’s Purse!
Guests were also asked to include a short letter about Ty and Joana’s love story in their boxes. They wanted to give children an example of how far a small act of kindness can go.
Paying It Forward With A New Tradition
Beginning in their very first year of married life, Ty and Joana started a holiday tradition that honors their past and helps others. Each holiday season, they prepare shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child in order to spread some joy and kindness to children around the world.
They also include a note sharing their unique love story. “We both feel so blessed and grateful that Operation Christmas Child brought us together,” said Ty.
The Newlyweds Faced Lots Of Adjustments
After three happy years of marriage, Joana had started getting used to living in America. She’d even traveled to eight different states in that time. She and Ty now had another big adjustment to make: they were going to have a baby!
Ty announced the pregnancy on Facebook, followed by this exciting update a few months later: “Folks he has finally arrived yesterday at 5:00pm welcome Baby Harlann Jun Wolfe.” It was a beautiful baby boy.
The Wolfe Family, Today
So much has changed for Ty and Joana since the young boy mailed a shoebox with his photo in it as part of Operation Christmas Child. Today, the couple is together because of that sweet act of generosity and even has a child together.
Joana recently posted an update to Facebook. “[Three] years down and our love has grown with a precious boy! Happy Anniversary Ty, thank you for doing this life with me as we figure out just how much the better in “for better or worse” really is when we’re in it together. I love you more than I can put into words.”
One Shoebox Made A Difference In The World
Ty and Joana’s incredible tale is an example of just how far one small act of kindness can go. When seven-year-old Tyrel Wolfe mailed a Christmas package to another child in 2000, there’s no way he could have known that his generosity would not just help the child, but himself. “I just didn’t know the joy it would bring back to me one day,” he said.
Now, their love story has gone viral and inspires people around the world to perform their own acts of kindness. What an inspiration for all of us to look out for one another and to treat each other with goodwill and respect.