On a cold December day in 2000, seven-year-old Tyrel Wolfe packed a Christmas gift bound for the Philippines, filled with holiday goodies and even a picture of himself donning a cowboy lasso. It was all part of a church-sponsored event by Samaritan’s Purse called Operation Christmas Child. Little did Tyrel know, that gift would change his life.
Shortly after, it was received by Joana Marchan, a little girl 7,000 miles away at a vacation Bible school in Manila.
Joana responded with a thank you letter, but it got lost in the mail and Tyrel never received it. Their story wasn’t over yet though.
Fast forward eleven years and Joana was a young woman signing up for Facebook when she suddenly remembered the cowboy who sent her that box of Christmas joy so many years before. She tracked down his profile and sent him a friend request.
Tyrel received it, but he didn’t know who Joana was so he ignored it.
Still, Joana persisted. Two years later she sent another friend request.
Tyrel finally cracked and sent her a message asking how she knew him. She replied with an explanation that she was still grateful for that package he sent in Christmas of 2000.
As fate would have it, the two kept in touch and actually had a lot in common. They were both still churchgoing Christians and both enjoyed the same music.
The two penpals decided they should meet in real life, so Tyrel saved up money for a plane ticket and flew to Manila a month after graduating high school. Their first meeting was as emotional as it was memorable.
Joana burst into tears of joy as soon as she saw Tyrel.
“When I finally got there and saw her, I had to punch myself a couple times because I thought it was a dream,” Tyrel said in an interview with People Magazine. “I was immediately attracted to her.”
Besides Joana’s beautiful smile and personality, Tyrel also noticed her family’s tight living arrangement. All eight members of her family slept on the floor of their small house. Tyrel began thinking of ways he could respect their different lifestyles and still be together with Joana.
The two agreed not to officially date until he had asked her father’s permission. In the middle of the trip, Tyrel worked up the courage to ask, and Joana’s father, who is a Christian pastor, gave his blessing for their relationship.
From then on, Tyrel knew Joana was ‘the one’. Upon returning to the US, all he could think about was how he could see Joana again. He immediately began to work and save money for a return visit.
In the meantime, they kept in contact via Facebook and Skype. When he finally returned to the Philippines, he stayed for a whole month. And on that trip, he asked Joana’s father for permission to marry her.
Once again, he received his now father-in-law’s blessing.
The couple held an engagement party in the Philippines, and then on October 5, 2014 they got married on Tyrel’s family’s 400-acre cattle ranch in Midvale, Idaho. He even wore a traditional Filipino groom’s shirt called a barong.
Everything came full circle too, as wedding guests packed and brought their own Operation Christmas Child packages to the wedding.
In June, Joana gave birth to their first child, a baby boy.