Just before Christmas in 2000, a 7-year-old boy named Tyrel Wolfe stuffed a humble shoebox with simple gifts, along with a picture of himself dressed like a cowboy, and mailed it overseas in the hopes it would bless a child in need.
Though he didn’t know it, the boy would one day receive a much greater blessing from the recipient.
Each year, Operation Christmas Child, an extension of Samaritan’s Purse, sends millions of shoeboxes to children living in third-world nations around the globe. Each shoebox contains simple gifts such as toys and hygiene products, as well as a message about the Gospel of Jesus. It was this kind of shoebox that Tyrel packed and mailed in the fall of 2000.
The shoebox traveled 7,000 miles from his native Idaho to Quezon City, in the Philippines, where it was given to a young girl named Joana who was attending a Vacation Bible School. The little girl was elated to receive the gift so she composed a letter to Tyrel and mailed it to the address he had enclosed in the shoebox.
Unfortunately, the letter never made it to Tyrel.
For more than a decade, the little girl lost contact with her American benefactor. But then Facebook became available to her, and Joana used the online social network to try and find Tyrel. All she had was a name, and when she typed it into the search engine, young men from all around the world popped up as possible matches.
But then she saw the young man who was dressed like a cowboy…and the mountainous background looked like it could fit what little she knew of Idaho. So she sent a friend request to him, and half-a-world away, a young rancher wondered why he’d received a message from “a random girl in the Philippines.”
After eleven long years, the relationship was finally underway. Now Joana could express her extreme gratitude to Tyrel. But their friendship quickly moved beyond a shoebox they had shared in common so many years ago. Now, they found other common interests, music, country living, and more. In spite of the 15-hour time difference, they communicated every morning and every evening via their computer screens.
In the summer of 2013, Tyrel decided he must meet the girl who had tracked him down because of his gift. So, after collecting enough money for a plane ticket – and more than enough cautionary worry from his parents – he flew to Manila to meet Joana.
Their initial meeting was one that Joana would never forget. “Once I saw his face, an amazing feeling came over me. I was so happy I cried.” The American stayed for 10 days and spent as much time with Joana and her family as he could. Realizing that Joana was “the one,” Tyrel gained her father’s permission to begin dating his daughter.
On the plane ride home, Tyrel began planning his next trip to the Philippines. He saved even more money, and upon his next visit, he stayed a month. During this trip, he asked Joana to be his wife and the two secured her visa to come to America to be wed…which is exactly what they did on October 5th at his parents’ cattle ranch in the States.
Instead of toasters and linens for the bride and groom, wedding guests were instructed to bring shoeboxes filled with toys for children around the world. Crediting his mother with the idea, Tyrel said, “Operation Christmas Child is what brought Joana and me together, so we wanted to somehow make the project a part of our celebration.” The newly married couple then loaded up all the boxes and drove them to the headquarters for Samaritan’s Purse in North Carolina.
The loving couple can’t wait to have children so that they can also send gifts to kids around the globe. “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.”
But that’s exactly how our God works. When we joyfully give, we joyfully receive.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)