15 Years After This American Boy Sent a Gift Box To a Filipino Girl, They Finally Meet In Person

Wed Mar 01 2023

This article was originally published on For What It’s Earth and has been republished to Hype Galore with permission.

When a young kid living in Idaho gave a gift box to a charity, he had no clue that it would end up in the hands of Joana, a young girl living in the Philippines. No one could have known that his small act of charity would end up changing the course of his life for good.

We’re revealing the real story of how two kids finally met each other in the flesh, several years after the gift box was sent. They had grown up considerably since then and had almost all but forgotten each other until fate intervened. And no one could predict what was about to happen next.

A Simple Act of Kindness Can Go Very Far

It all started when Tyrel was just seven years old. It was 2000, and Tyrel was helping his parents pack Christmas shoebox gifts to send to children in the Philippines from his home in Midvale, Idaho. He was helping to contribute to the Operation Christmas Child project that was being run by the Samaritans.

Tyrel filled the gift boxes with things like school supplies, toiletries, and toys, but part of his job was to tell the kid receiving it who had filled their box. He included the portrait photo above in the shoebox, showing him dressed as a cowboy in a mountain cabin. He didn’t know that his box would end up in the hands of a young Joanna.

A Thank You Note That Never Made It

The point of the project was to give something to children who were less fortunate. When Tyrel’s box fell into the hands of Joana, she treasured the little presents she received and was happy he included a photo, his name, and address. It helped Joana realize that it was a real person, around the same age as her, who gifted her these things.

Young Joanna was so moved that she decided to write to Tyrel to say thank you. But for some reason, her letter never made it to Tyrel’s house in Idaho. It’s pretty common for mail to get lost at the best of times, but Joanna and Tyrel lived the other side of the world from each other. Her letter probably got lost somewhere along the way.

Joana Transforms Into a Gorgeous Young Woman Over the Years

Correspondence had ended after that as Joana obviously never got a letter back. Both Tyrel and Joana got on with their lives, spending the years in their respective hometowns. Joana grew into a beautiful young woman with a cheeky sense of humor – take a look at her in the photo on the left threatening to smash the cake!

She was especially close to her family growing up, and always maintained a sense of child-like playfulness. Many years later in 2009, Joana decided to look Tyrell up on Facebook. She sent him a friend request, but Tyrel never accepted. He was 21 years old and didn’t know anyone called Joana, so he figured it was the innocent mistake of a stranger.

Tyrel Found Joy in the Great Outdoors

Tyrel on the other hand was really outdoorsy, and since he was growing up in the countryside of the American northwest, he had plenty of space to explore throughout the years. He developed an interest in motorbikes, surfing, and absolutely loved animals.

In 2011 Tyrell was 23, and he noticed a woman named Joana had sent him a Facebook friend request. He had no idea she was the girl who received his gift box, but Joanna was happy to introduce herself. They started getting to know each other online and found they had a ton in common. Over the course of a year, they had developed quite a strong friendship and Tyrel wanted to go out to the Phillippines to meet Joana in person…

Flying Half Way Around the World

Tyrell graduated from high school in May 2013 and booked a flight straight to Manila to meet Joana. He was aware that what he was doing was a bit crazy: “I knew I was taking a big risk. 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.” But when he got there and finally met Joana, he saw how smart and nice she really was.

But there’s more; they had an instant attraction to each other. “When I finally got there and saw her, I had to punch myself a couple times because I thought it was a dream,” Tyrel admits, confirming “I was immediately attracted to her.” The amazing thing was Joana felt exactly the same way about him. Tyrel had been nervous the whole flight there and now that he finally made it, his worries simply went away.

Trying To Make a Good Impression

Tyrel was putting his best foot forward, at least that’s what he was trying to do. He wanted to impress Joana and make her feel special, even if it meant throwing an apron on and getting hands-on in the kitchen. Young love will make people do strange things!

As we can see, Joana snapped some photos of him crouching over a table. He had made a decent batter mix and was trying to roll it into balls that he would eventually put in the oven. Tyrel was trying to make cookies, but Joana never posted a photo of the final product… we wonder why!

They Wanted To Go Steady But First They Needed Permission

Tyrel and Joana were falling for each other. They wanted to be an official couple, but it wasn’t necessarily that easy. Tradition was very important in Joana’s family, and in order for her to have her parents blessing on their relationship, Tyrel would have to ask her Joana’s father Jun for permission.

This wasn’t a custom Tyrel was familiar with back home in the states, but if it made Joana happy to ask her father first he knew he would do it. Luckily, he was able to meet him in person on his trip, and Joana’s father gave them his blessing. After all, he wanted his daughter to be happy.

Realizing How Good He Had It Back Home

Living with Joana and her family in a place called Quezon City had been a truly eye-opening experience for Tyrel. They lived in a small house that was only 10 by 19 feet and had few items of furniture. They also had a fairly big family of eight living there, and all of them slept in one room together.

“Here in America, a lot of people are blessed with a lot of things, and after seeing Joana’s home, I’ve gained a different outlook on how people live,” Tyrel reflected. He had only budgeted to be in the Phillippines for 10 days, and his time with Joana was coming to a close. Needless to say, they were pretty devastated that they had to part ways.

I’ll Be Back

“It was one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever had to say because we didn’t know the next time we’d see each other,” Tyrel recalled, adding, “I told her I’m going to do whatever it takes to come back to her.” And he wasn’t joking. Soon after he got back to the states he booked another flight to the Phillippines for November.

Tyrell knew they had such a good thing going on that they shouldn’t just let it go. They had the same taste in things like music, but their relationship also went much deeper than that. Both of them were devoted to their Christian faith, and that was something they could share with each other, too.

Do You Hear Wedding Bells?

November finally came around, and Tyrell planned to take four weeks off to spend in the Phillippines with Joana. He got to know her family better and spent some quality time with her mom. Tyrel knew what he wanted at this point, and that was to have a future with Joana. He had decided he was going to ask her for her hand in marriage…

But by this point, Tyrel knew better than to ask Joana before he’d asked her father Jun! On this month-long trip, he made sure to speak to her dad, and thankfully he was given his approval. But as Tyrel would come to find, Jun was the least of his worries.

Tyrel’s Parents Aren’t Convinced

Tyrel’s mother Rocel needed more convincing that their marriage was a good idea. She did like Joana but held firm on the opinion that the still relatively new couple should wait longer before getting married. After all, both Tyrel and Joana were still so young.

In the end, they decided that Tyrel’s dad Ivan should travel to the Philippines to meet Joana and her family. Joana had still never been to the states and all Tyrel’s parents had to go on was what he relayed to them. Since Tyrel was already there, Ivan was going to see them together and judge their relationship for himself.

Popping the Question

On his month-long trip to the Philippines, Tyrel asked Joana to marry him! Luckily, she said yes, not knowing how things were going to work out. Later, they released a Youtube video together about the proposal day, sharing how it went down.

“We were doing a photoshoot that day…” they explained, as they were frolicking about in the fields while someone took photos. They continued, “…Just enjoying the shoot and the beautiful sunny day… and then this happened.” Take a look at the smile on Joana! She truly felt on top of the world.

Throwing An Engagement Party

Now that they were engaged, they wanted to have an engagement party, and it went better than Joana and Tyrel could have hoped. Their parents seemed more at ease with their relationship, and Joana’s mother revealed to Ivan her true feelings about their relationship.

Joana’s mom went straight up to Tyrel’s dad and told him: “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 important for Joana’s family to see that Tyrel was serious about their daughter, and having Tyrel’s family come to meet them proved that he was.

Making Some Big Decisions

Tyrel and Joana were madly in love and couldn’t wait to be married. But now they had to decide on where in the world they were going to live – in the Philippines near Joana’s family, or in Idaho near Tyrel’s. It wasn’t an easy decision, but they decided to move Joana to the states due to Tyrel’s job.

Tyrel was earning enough in his current job to support both himself and Joana. On top of that, he was making enough to even send some money to the Marchan family in the Philipines. It would take months, but eventually, Joana got approved for a visa and was able to fly out to Tyrel.

Joana Moves To Idaho

After a long wait of about eight months, Joana made it to the states and into the arms of her fiance! They had planned to have a wedding soon after they arrived, and took some time to get everything planned. But for Joana, this was her first time outside of the Philippines and was a whole new world.

“It was a big change and adjustment for me,” Joana revealed at a later date. “I was raised in the city and now I’m living in the country with much less people and more space, but it’s a beautiful place.” As we can see in the photos, even though it had been months since they had seen each other nothing had changed between the pair.

Family Approval From Both Sides

Now that Joana was living in Idaho with Tyrel, she was able to meet the rest of his family for the first time – including the mother of the groom! Thankfully, Tyrel’s family loved her and welcomed her in with open arms. The young couple were from two completely different backgrounds, but everyone could see they matched each other so well.

It became apparent that Joana’s family wouldn’t be able to make it out to the wedding, as they were planning to throw it in Idaho. So Joana and Tyrel made plans to go back to the Phillippines to have a second wedding of sorts that her parents could attend.

Meeting His Friends For the First Time

Then came the nerve-wracking part of any new relationship – meeting the friends. But Tyrel and Joana’s circumstances weren’t like most, as this part would normally happen before a couple is about to get married… And that puts even more pressure on the situation!

Luckily, they had nothing to worry about. Joana’s so friendly and charming, she got on with everyone like a house on fire. She also spoke English well – after all, it’s how she communicated with Tyrel – so there really weren’t any issues with communication.

They Make It to the Altar!

Shortly after Joana had moved to Idaho, they finally got hitched! They had a wedding on Tyrel’s parents’ 400-acre long farm and invited everyone from Tyrel’s life. Obviously, Joana’s friends and family couldn’t make it, but they would make up for it by having a second ceremony in the Philippines at a later date.

Joana was a beautiful bride who looked elegant in her slim-fitted lace wedding dress. She had bought it from a thrift store, making it the ideal sustainable option. Tyrel on the other hand went for a cream-colored shirt. But either way, they were finally married and everything was falling into place.

Where It All Began

Tyrel and Joana were over the moon that things were turning out how they had. So much so that they made a promise to pack a shoebox every time Christmas rolled around, starting the year they married. And they would include a note sharing their unlikely story inside.

They arranged to deliver their box in person to the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in North Carolina to see the operation for themselves. It just so happened to be near where Tyrel worked anyhow, so it was pretty convenient! But that didn’t mean they weren’t eager.

The Operation That Brought Them Together

“They were excited to see behind the scenes of where it all happened for them,” said the assistant director of Operation Christmas Child, Rachel Mills. “We want these children to experience love, and that’s exactly what they found. It was like a needle in a haystack.”

Over 113 million shoeboxes were sent around the world to more than 130 countries since the operation started in 1993, and Joana just happened to receive Tyrel’s. “We don t want to give them some fantasy, but we do want to show that we care and want to share our love,” Tyrel stated. “We both feel so blessed and grateful that Operation Christmas Child brought us together.”

Spending Christmas In Idaho

This was also the first Christmas that Joana and Tyrel were spending together, and they were doing it as a newly married couple! But little did they know at the time that this wasn’t just their first Christmas together, but also the last one they would spend alone… They were living together in a starter home in Midvale, just beginning their journey together.

The fact that they were both devout Christians made this holiday and their marriage all the more special. They didn’t just partake in the gift-giving and family time together, but also the emotional significance of the holiday. People in their life just couldn’t believe how lucky it was that they found each other.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade

Tyrel’s job started to involve more traveling, which could have posed a problem for their relationship. Joana was still new to the States and didn’t know a lot of people, and now Tyrel had to be driving around to different States for his work. But the young couple didn’t want to put that distance between them, and they decided to do something about it.

Rather than leaving Joana behind at home, she came with him on his work travels! It actually turned out to be an amazing decision, as Joana got to see several other States with her new husband. What posed a threat to their happiness was turned into a huge blessing, as they simply traveled all over North America and went exploring.

Joana Fulfills a Wish and Gets Baptised

While Joana was a devout Christian, she hadn’t ever been baptized. It was important to Tyrel and also something that Joana deeply wanted, and now was able to make happen. Here’s a photo of her during the ceremony, where you can see the emotion on her face.

Tyrel was over the moon that his wife wanted this as much as he did. He posted this photo on Facebook along with the caption: “Joana was baptized today! Such an extra special blessing and an answer to my prayer!” To which one of their friends commented that “It was beautiful, she was so sweet. She worried about crying. I told her to just let the tears flow.”

The Girls That Have Got Her Back

Even though Joana was having the time of her life with Tyrel in the States, she hadn’t forgotten about her family back in the Philipines. In fact, the couple still had to have a second wedding in front of Joana’s mom and dad. They took a trip to her hometown and spent some quality time with her family.

Take a look at Joana with her look-a-like sisters – they look like they could be identical quadruplets! The truth was that all four sisters were very close and talked all the time, even though Joana was now living far away. They were more than just sisters according to Joana; they were best friends.

Joana’s Supportive Dad Trusted In Her Feeling

Joana’s dad was always supportive of their relationship, even when her mom was on the fence. Now they were in the Phillippines again, but landing at the airport this time was a whole different story for Tyrel. When he first flew halfway around the world to meet Joana for the first time, he was a ball of nerves.

“My heart started beating faster as the plane got closer and closer to the destination… And then I see her and her big beautiful smile shine out of the crowd and it’s like wow, and the biggest question is like ‘lord is this a dream.'” It would have been a difficult situation for many fathers to accept, but Joana’s dad trusted his daughter’s instincts on Tyrel.

The Big Beautiful Smile That Told Him This Wasn’t By Chance

They went on Idaho News 6 to talk about their amazing story of how they met, but they both struggled to hold back the tears. “I was just so happy meeting him, seeing him face to face… I was really nervous before I saw you at the airport,” Joana recalled.

Tyrell added: “At that point, we just knew that there was no possible way that she could have found me just out of chance, you know. it was just through god that she found me.” From the moment that Joana greeted Tyrel at the airport, he knew she was something special: “The thing that’s going through my mind is I need – I have to come back.”

The Stork Is on His Way

Pretty soon after they got back to Idaho, there was some good news for Joana and Tyrel. Joana was pregnant, and they felt like this was coming at the perfect time for them as they were keen to start a family. They had opened a joint Instagram account, and they shared their happy news with growing online following.

Joana wrote: “Since the start of my second trimester, I’ve been feeling this little one move around. At 17 weeks, feels like I’ve got an Olympic acrobat in there. So lovely, letting us know he/she is OK! Pure joy! #firstpregnancy #firsttimeparents” Before they knew it, they were going to have a little one on their hands. But not before Joana did some maternity shopping… “Baby’s getting big, momma’s shirts are getting small. #gloriouscurveball”

Considering New Opportunites

Tyrel and Joana had been together for over two years at this point and they were more in love than ever. They were still only in their mid-twenties and just figuring out their careers, but in their personal lives, they felt extremely fulfilled. At the same time, people online were touched by their story and wanted more updates.

They decided to open a Youtube channel to share their lives more easily, as well as have a new source of income. Aside from that, Joana had started to pursue one of her great passions, photography, as a profession. Slowly but surely, she built up her portfolio all the while they waited for their little one to arrive. Joana joked: “He still thinks I am beautiful even after gaining 32 lbs!”

It’s a Boy!

Finally, the day came when Joana gave birth and it was to a beautiful baby boy who they called Harlann. Joana showed her Instagram followers what life was like after taking their newborn home, writing “Harlann, doing newborn things… Eat, sleep, repeat.”

And Joana couldn’t help but flood her social media with photos of her two main men. “This sight… beautifully more than I could’ve imagined,” she would caption her photos. Becoming a parent can be scary, but with the right person, Joana felt brave enough for this journey. “For any of life’s adventures, he is always my favorite companion…” she gushed about Tyrel.

A New Year Resolution

Joana’s parents were thrilled to become grandparents for the first time. “This lil’ guy keeps me busy! I so love his big round eyes,” Joana wrote when Harlann was a few short months old. But she was well aware that these precious few months would be gone in a flash: “Days are long, but the years are short… #slowdowntime #justalittlemore”

They would go to the Philippines with their newest family addition when Harlann was a tiny bit older, so for the time being his grandparents would have to make do with photos like this. And until then, the Wolfe family had come up with a new year resolution: “2017 = full of LOVE and the year we became PARENTS! We decided that our number 1 goal this [next] year is to spend less on things and more on experiences for our family.”