Every holiday season, kids around the world are given shoeboxes filled with goodies as part of the annual Operation Christmas Child outreach. While the trinkets in the box entertain children and teach them about God, one recipient ended up with a bigger gift than she could have ever imagined.
The story surrounding how Joana and Tyrel Wolfe found one another is practically unbelievable and — they believe — God-ordained.
The two first connected 14 years ago when a then 7-year-old Tyrel packed an Operation Christmas Child shoebox with various items and sent it to the Philippines. It's recipient? Eight-year-old Joana, who later received the gift while attending vacation Bible school graduation in Manilla.
At the time, the two children didn't know one another, were thousands of miles apart and obviously had no idea that they would not only meet one day, but that they would become husband and wife; they married last month in Idaho.
Joana and Tyrel Wolfe (Operation Christmas Child/Samaritan's Purse)
Looking back now, it's a story that "sounds like a fairy tale or a Hollywood movie," according to a story published on the Samaritan's Purse website.
It was through the box that Joana learned about God. She was so impacted at the time that she wrote a letter thanking Tyrel and kept a photo of him that his family included in the box.
But her letter inexplicably never made its way to the young boy.
And it wasn't until 11 years later that Joana — who hadn't forgotten the profound impact the gift had on her life — tried to find the generous young man on Facebook. After locating a "Tyrel Wolfe" in Idaho, she sent a friend request and the two began corresponding.
"I still wanted to thank the person who gave me the box that had meant so much to me," she told Samaritan's Purse.
The two began chatting regularly and, as their relationship grew, Tyrel flew to the Philippines in June 2013, where they met for the first time. He said he knew instantly that "Joana was the one."
It was later during a separate trip to the Philippines that Tyrel asked Joana's father if he could have her hand in marriage — a request that was granted.
The two subsequently walked down the aisle this past October, crediting their union to that simple Operation Christmas Child shoebox that forever changed their lives.
They so value the power of the Christmas boxes, in fact, that they asked their wedding guests to either put together boxes or to give a donation to Samaritan's Purse; the couple recently delivered these donations to the organization's North Carolina headquarters.
"When we start having children, we want to involve them in packing boxes too," Tyrel told the group. "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."
Read more about the story here.