Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A shoebox full of love

Quezon City is a suburb of Manila, in the Philippines. Fourteen years ago, a child named Joana attended vacation Bible school in Quezon City. That Christmas, students in her class received shoe boxes from children in the United States, containing modest holiday gifts. Her box also contained the address and a snapshot of the seven-year-old donor, Tyrel Wolfe. He was from a place called "Idaho" and wore a cowboy shirt. Joana wrote to thank him for the gifts, but he never received her letter.

"I still wanted to thank the person who packed the box for me," she said, so after eleven years she tried to locate him on Facebook. She found several people named Tyrel Wolfe, but only one from Idaho. Since he was dressed in cowboy attire, she submitted a friend request from "a random girl in the Phillipines." He was intrigued, and over the next year they exchanged letters and pictures. Despite a 15-hour time difference, they set aside time each morning and night for Facebook visits. Finally in 2013, Tyrel saved enough money to fly to Manila and meet Joana. "Once I saw his face, an amazing feeling came over me," she remembers. "I was so happy I cried." Tyrel stayed for 10 days. "All I knew was that Joana was the one." He returned again the next year for a month, and asked Joana's Dad (in the Tagalog language) for permission to marry her. They obtained a fiancee visa for Joana and the couple were wed at an outdoor ceremony on Tyrel's parents' 400-acre cattle ranch. Tyrel wore a barong, the traditional embroidered shirt worn by Filipino grooms.

Instead of gifts, the couple asked their wedding guests to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child which is sponsored by Samaritan's Purse and has several drop-off stations in Idaho. Shown above, they later delivered their own boxes in person to Samaritan's Purse headquarters in Boone, North Carolina, and told their unforgettable story. "I remember as a little boy I was so excited to know the toys I put in the box would bring joy to another child somewhere in the world," said Tyrel. "I just didn't know the joy it would bring back to me one day."

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