When I was in 6th grade, our middle school principal gave us an assignment that we all had to take part in. Every student needs to bring an envelope with money inside it and a letter. The recipient of the money and note would be a child the same age as us in Darfur. We had learned about the war raging in the nation, and all the children were driven to help. I had never heard from my teachers or other students of anyone writing back. I hope the envelopes even made it across the globe. The story of Tyrel Wolfe and Joana Marchan is much different. Their story is the first online love story that has managed to warm my heart, and it all started with a shoe box and a Facebook request.
If you have Facebook and use it often than you may notice some odd friend requests every now and again. Most people deny the request, and at best look at a couple of photos to check if they know the person before they do. Almost all stranger Facebook request are oriented with marketing, advertisement, and even espionage!
Next time you get a strange request, save the link of the user and check in again a couple of months later. Chances are they have a different name, with a different birthday, and different picture too. So, when 18-year-old Tyrell Wolfe got a Facebook request from one Joana Marchan, he had the natural millennial instinct of scrolling through the profile and denying the request. Little did he know that she could change his life forever.
Joana Marchan could not be a more random friend request. Her profile stated that she was from the Philippines. Thousands of miles from his small-town Idaho bubble. Scrolling through her pictures, it seemed evident that she had never been to the United States, and at least to his recollection, Tyrel had never traveled to the Philippines.
He wouldn’t know it was an instance of luck, but she caught enough clout in his mind for him to remember her, as this would not be the last time she would try to reach out to him.
Tyrell was obviously able to forget about the random girl on Facebook quickly. As anyone would, he figured she was just another bot/scammer trying to figure out his Social Security number. I want to talk about myself again. In high school, I fell in love with a girl. She didn’t love me back. Yes, it was true love, and it always manifested in different instances of my life.
Once she was the only other person in a desert bus stop, I showed up to in the middle of the night. I was sent from my battalion to medic school, one month later she joined the class under me, and the list keeps going. It seemed to happen every time I forgot she existed. If it was all meant to be is beyond say, but it is very true that the world works in mysterious ways. Just as it did for Tyrell and Joanna, as it would not be the last time she would send him a request.
Two years passed since the random girl in the Philippines sent the unblemished friend request. His ponder of her existence would prove valuable, as he immediately remembered her when she sent him another friend request. He remembered her immediately! He asked himself some of the same questions he had in the past.
“Who the heck is this girl? Do I even know her? What does she want from me?” They say in phone sales, “if you call and they hang up, call again!” The result of the sales tactic is that the person on the other line answers with anger, and asks who you are, and what it is you want from their life! Tyrell fell into the luckiest bait and switch of his life.
Online scammers are craftsman at getting into your most personal needs in life. They entice you in many ways and turn the needs into dreams. They then use your dreams as motivation for you to give them much more than simple information, and if you think your too smart to get scammed, think again!
A good scammer will understand who you are in less than a minute, they find your ego, and they feed it. Tyrell was intrigued and would choose to put the “stranger danger” aside and take a leap of faith.
Tyrell must have never been spammed as he was consumed by the mystery of who this girl was. So much so that he consulted with friends and family. Obviously, the typical reaction is to get is to stay far away and forget about it.
He did not heed any of the warnings; he went with his gut. He chose to message the possible scammer and ask a question that is every scammer’s wet dream, “how do you know me?” He could have never imagined the response he got.
Joanna must have been very excited to make contact with Tyrell as she responded rather quickly. Tyrell must have thought that he would find out she has nothing to do with him, and that would be the end of it. Joanna was smart with her response.
She answered him with a Q for Q response. She inquired into something that roots far back into his adolescence; “Have you heard of Samaritan’s Purse?” Tyrell didn’t understand what she was talking about. Was it a show, an organization, or maybe a book? She gave him two words that could have referenced anything really! Then he remembered!
“Samaritan’s Purse” was a non-profit organization that created a project called “Operation Christmas Child.” The project would go to schools around America and ask students and their parents to package gifts for less privileged children in different countries. The children and their parents can gift whatever they could afford to.
They gifted toys, clothes, hand me downs, even toiletries, and school supplies. When Tyrell was seven years old, Operation Christmas Child came to his school too. Could it be that she had something to do with that? It’s safe to say his heart was now racing!
It’s not every day that a simple exchange online ignites the heart. It’s pretty amazing that it even happens at all! Just think how the movie “Note Book” would have plotted had it been written in the age of social media. Joana’s story was just as much a feel festival.
Small town Tyrell was preoccupied with goosebumps as Joana revealed to him that she was the little girl who received his Christmas gift when he was just a little boy. Despite his excitement, friends and family doubled down on the argument that he was being played for a fool.
Tyrell’s parents were less than pleased that he had made contact with what they viewed as a stranger. The reality to them was when someone who you never met starts asking questions about something you did when you were seven years old, then it’s a red flag that the next thing they will want is your money.
Tyrell respected his parents and considered their advice, but he was also determined to find a way to solve the mystery. He decided to test Joana with questions that she would only be able to answer if she was the real deal!
Joanna didn’t know it yet, but the text messages she would get was going to be a test to see if she was a genuine person or not. It would be tricky for her.
As one of the first things Tyrell learned, is that she did not remember everything in the box. He would need to pivot his questioning to learn the truth about her. He thought of a question that would change the plot for good, one way or another.
Joanna may have been a bit forgetful, and yes that can raise some eyebrows. But why just let it go after getting this far. Whatever she did remember, she described in detail, and Tyrell’s excitement came back! He was ready to ask her the question that can give him the truth.
Tyrell had put a picture of himself inside the box. It was the only one of its kind. If she could tell him about the image, then they were in business.
“Joana, what was in the box?” Tyrells palms were already sweating profusely! What if she didn’t know? What a disappointment that would be! The shoebox made it a long way to the Philippines. A stroke of fate would be a beautiful thing to get out of the gesture he made at seven years of age.
Joana’s response was baffling to him! “When I opened the box, the first thing I looked at was your picture! It was of a little boy dressed up in a three striped shirt, and the background was a wooden wall. The first thing I thought to myself is that you were cute!”
Tyrell and Joana were now able to calm down from all the hype of their new-found friendship. Joanna would go on to thank him for his Christmas gifts, and he would thank her for reaching out despite the fear of online rejection. After all, she persisted twice!
Tyrell was now left crushing over this new girl in his life. He wanted to know, and maybe even hoping that she wanted more than to reach out to say thank you. Well, he was right to ponder as it was only the beginning of their friendship.
Time went by as Tyrell and Joanna became closer friends. They would talk every day on the phone. They video chatted and texted each other every chance they got. They had a lot in common too.
They both loved Christian Rock and would talk on the phone while watching basketball games together. A year and a half went by, and Tyrell was ready to reveal his master plan.
Tyrell had a secret of his own that he had kept from the second he found out Joana was telling the truth, he decided to save up money so he can meet her face to face, and as their friendship grew that dream only grew and grew.
Tyrell mustered up all the courage he could and spoke to her on the phone. “How would you feel if I came to the Philippines” Joana jumped up with excitement. She wanted to introduce him to her family and friends; she could take him to eat her favorite food! Tyrell was relieved at her excitement telling her “this is the first time I put myself out there for anyone!
Flying Internationally is no comfortable feet for a 21-year-old coming of age. Tyrell put up countless hours to save up money for not just tickets but being able to go out and see the country he would come so far to see.
It was his first for everything; first time flying, first time leaving the country, first time putting so much effort to make a connection with another person.
The Flight to the Philippines from Idaho was 14 hours, but Tyrell was already nervous at the gate. It was so evident that even the airport security had to come and ask him a couple of questions as to why he was sweating so much and looked so suspicious.
He told his story, and they almost didn’t believe it! Luckily, they let him onto the plane, and there was no turning back from there!
When he finally landed, he got a welcome that could not be beaten. Not just Joana, but her family were there to meet the boy in the cowboy picture.
Tyrell and Joanna would travel across the country together, from Manila and even Makati. He called his parents also to tell them he was extending his ticket to stay longer. When asked how long, he responded: “as long as possible.”
More time went by, and Tyrell and Joanna were openly in a relationship. They were madly in love, but before they could figure out how to be together forever, he would need to go home. Tyrell had been through a lot in life, but this would be his first goodbye.
The two love birds enjoyed their last drive together very much. Tyrell had rented a convertible that they shared many memories in.
They made a promise to one another to make this final drive a happy one and not a sad one. They stopped to look at some views, had a picnic together in a big park in the city. Then it was time to finally finish the day at the airport for one last kiss.
Tyrell got home and immediately started to work again. He made peace with the fact that for the time being, Joanna was the girl he loved, and to see her he would have to work, travel, and repeat. It was a reality that he didn’t mind at all.
Some months later he came back for more fun in his second home, the two grew closer and closer and the second trip seemed to be a breeze. Little did he know that his real challenge would be the trip that followed.
Two years had passed since Tyrell began his long-distance romance with Joanna. He had spoken a bit of the native language, he made some friends across the country, and even knew how to cook a dish or two!
He felt comfortable with Joanna and was pleased to ask Joanna’s mom for her blessing, so he can ask her to marry him. To his surprise, she said yes, but he would have a bigger fish to fry before he could do that.
When word got to Joanna’s father that Tyrell wants to marry his daughter, her father was not too happy.
She was his first daughter, and deep down inside, letting her marry someone from afar could mean he would not see her for periods at a time. He told him to slow it down and make sure it was the right thing for them to do. Tyrell like he always does; hatched the perfect plan.
Tyrell understood by now that in Joanna’s culture families speak with each other before blessing their children for marriage. He decided to fly his father out to meet hers.
Talking to his father about it was just as hard. He was confronted with all the skepticism a young adult can get. Tyrell held his ground and eventually got his father to come around to the idea and fly out to meet his future daughter in law.
Both parents hit it off! Sharing drinks, and laughing the night away! Meanwhile, Joanna still had no idea what the big secret was, maybe she had a hunch!
Tyrell finally took a knee and asked for her hand forever. She said yes! They were not going to do something extravagant though. Despite the excitement, a big wedding would have. The fairy tale couple had a different story to tell.
Joanna and Tyrell did not want to do anything conventionally. They didn’t meet that way, and they would not tie the knot that way either. Joanna went to the city a got herself a dress for just 5$, Tyrell rented a suit.
The couple would have a wedding in his father’s stateside ranch and fly out her whole family. But there was a big catch to how their marriage would look. They had hatched up a plan no one would expect.
Tyrell and Joanna Sent out a pretty simple wedding invitation. Their guests can wear simple clothing that made them comfortable, and they were explicitly instructed not to give the couple gifts. The plan was to pay it forward.
Every guest would bring a shoebox with gifts wrapped that the couple would drive to Operation Christmas Child themselves. It would be a tribute to the organization that brought them together.
Tyrell and Joanna instructed each guest to leave a note inside every box. This particular note would tell the story of their love and spread a message of hope to every recipient.
It was less important that the kids reading them would have a sense of false beliefs, but that they see that good thing come from humans helping one another, and that’s all the lovely couple could ask for!
Tyrell by this point was working many hours and would travel for work frequently. The couple lived in Idaho and Joanna would need to adjust to the country life on her own.
At first, it was hard, but with time she started to get used to the life she now shared with her American husband. Time had passed, and it was more evident that this couple would be together forever. That’s when they welcomed a new member to the family.
After being married to one another for three years. The happy couple had finally welcomed their first child into the family. His name is Nikki Won Wolfe, and he was everything they could imagine in life and more!
The two could not feel more blessed, and grateful for the fruitful ending to their story. A story that still spreads around the world and spreads joy and inspiration in others, and once a year; even some holiday cheer.
Ask any couple what their two favorite holidays are? The answers you’ll get are “Christmas” and “Our Anniversary.” But in this heart-warming love story, there are two special days combined into one. For Tyrell & Joanna Christmas is known as their “Christmasaversery.”
And through the years, their #christmasaversery has gained traction across social media, with online fans praising the “fairy-tale style” love. “It’s Really our favorite time of the year.”
Tyrell, Joanna & Nikki, could not be a more beautiful family. One of the gifts they cherish the most is being able to have two homes to visit at any given time. Two grandmas and Two grandpas for little Nikki, and a lot of extra help wherever they go!
“We try to visit the Philippines three times a year,” Joanna says. Nikki now, already four years old, already explains that mommy loves to eat out, while Nikki likes to eat grandma’s food when they visit.
We asked Joanna why she chose to reach out so many years after getting her shoebox. What she said kind of shocked us. “To be honest, I was lonely and looking to start a family. My family was too weak, and I didn’t want to live a life of poverty. I wanted a husband that can provide for us, and I was not going to find that where I came from!
I didn’t know if Tyrell would become that husband or not, but because of social media, I was now able to make a move on him like I would anyone at a local pub. The goal maybe was not so genuine, but the love between us is real, and the family we built is full of love. Tyrell knew I was poor the whole time, and he loves me for who I am not what I have, and that makes me feel good.”