Tyrel Wolfe was surprised when he received a Facebook request from a woman in the Philippines that he didn’t know. Two years later, she tried again, this time sending a message saying she knew him. Tyrel had no recollection of ever meeting her, but she had been searching for him for years.
A Tenuous Connection
Tyrel tended not to respond to Facebook requests from strangers. The woman seemed persistent though, and it sparked his curiosity. The story she told impacted him more deeply than he could have realized.
The Spark Of Memory
The woman’s story dated back to Tyrel’s childhood. She described a series of events that Ty had difficulty recalling, but had left an impression on her. Tyrel realized she had tried adding him on Facebook two years prior, but had no clue what their connection was. The girl, named Joana, seemed certain they had connected in the past. After she had a chance to explain it to him, he knew he needed to go to his parents for answers.
Living In Potato-land
Tyrel Wolfe grew up in a small town called Midvale, Idaho. The tiny settlement sits close to the border of Washington State, nestled among the rolling hills that fill in the gaps between the region’s mountain ranges. Tyrel had an idyllic childhood growing up in the rural community with his parents, Denise and Ivan Wolfe. Together the family was committed to a life deeply connected to their Christian faith, which lead them to participate in a number of charity projects over the years.
Spreading The Cheer
When Tyrel was seven years old, he helped his mom participate in packing shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts for underprivileged children. The project, called Operation Christmas Child, was sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse. The organization bills itself as “a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world.” Included in the boxes that Ty helped pack were small toys, school supplies, and toiletries. But there was one other thing that needed to be included, and Ty got to choose it himself.
The Miniature Cowboy
One of the stipulations of the project required volunteers to put a photo into each of the boxes they were packing. At seven years old, Ty decided that the photo in their boxes should be of himself. He was particularly fond of a picture where he was dressed as a cowboy, posed in front of mountains rising up in the background. It was his aunt who took care of the gifts from there. As only a child could, Ty promptly forgot about the gifts.
The Suggestion Of A Past
Joana explained to Tyrel in her message that she had been one of the recipients of the shoeboxes filled with gifts when she was also a child. She had been deeply impressed by the young cowboy in the picture, and had spent her over a decade trying to find him. According to Joana, she had sent a thank you note, but Ty never remembered receiving one. He was in disbelief and ran to go confirm the story with his parents.
Asking For Proof
Neither Ivan nor Denise believed this girl was telling the truth. They wanted her to provide more proof. It could have been enough for them that she was living in the Philippines, where they knew the packages had been sent. Denise confirmed Ty’s participation, but explained they’d never received a letter from her. Joana was disappointed to hear that her gracious note had gotten lost, but she still had one trump card up her sleeve that would be undeniable proof.
Laying Down Her Cards
In the course of Ty and Joana’s continued conversations, she produced the picture that Ty himself had picked out so long ago. The entire Wolfe family was impressed that their charitable offering had struck such a chord with the young Joana. When asked why she contacted Ty, she told People, “I was curious as to what he was like now. Was he going to college like me?” The mystery may have been solved, but the story was just beginning.
Discovering A Deeper Link
Ty had come to look forward to Joana’s messages. In the time they’d spent trying to prove that she had been introduced to him, in a way, more than 11 years ago, they began to notice other trends they had in common. First off, both were deeply committed to their Christian faith and liked the same music, which made it easy to converse with one another, despite the vast differences in their lives. Ty enjoyed talking to her, but they’d still never actually met.
When Joana received her Christmas box, she was finishing up her time at the Vacation Bible School in Quenzon City in the Philippines. The box helped Joana to find the religion that would become so important to her adult life. According to Samaritan’s Purse, “It was through the box that she had heard a presentation of the Gospel and accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior. Not long afterward, her father also received Christ and eventually followed the calling God put on his heart to become a pastor,”
A World Away
Joana was still living in a suburb of Manila called Quezon City, while Ty was working with his father building trails and bridges in state parks. As he saw his savings pile up, an idea struck him: what if he were to fly to the Philippines in order to meet her. Ty suggested the plan to Joana, to whom he had been writing regularly for nearly a year. To his surprise, Joana was on board with the idea, so Ty got to planning.
Across The Deep Blue Sea
Tyrel was nervous about his upcoming vacation. He had booked a 10 day stay in Quezon City, but it was his first time ever leaving the United States at all, let alone by himself. Wolfe would tell People magazine, “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.” As he boarded the plane, he couldn’t seem to quell his nerves.
Up In The Air
The entire plane ride Ty felt like his stomach could leap out of his throat at a moment’s notice, but packaged in with his nerves was also a ray of excitement. Quezon City was a long way from Midvale, Idaho. The town he grew up in was home to less than 200 people, and yet here he was in a foreign city, watching what felt like the entire world whiz by. The moment he saw Joana in person though, his breath caught in his throat.
The Buzz Of Quezon
Any fear Ty had had prior to meeting Joana in person dissipated the moment he laid eyes on her. It seemed the feeling was mutual. She was a stunning young woman, and Ty knew he wanted more than just the deep friendship they’d developed. In fact, he admitted to People, “When I finally got there and saw her, I had to punch myself a couple times because I thought it was a dream. I was immediately attracted to her.”
Seeing His Face
Joana wasn’t sure what to expect as she waited for Ty’s plane to land. She knew how much she loved talking to him, and she cherished the time they’d spent playing music for each other over Skype, but she wasn’t sure what it would feel like to see him in person. Joana would recount the first moment to Samaritan’s Purse, “Once I saw his face, an amazing feeling came over me. I was so happy I cried.”
She Came From Nothing
There was more than just Joana that affected him deeply during his stay. City dwellers of America might turn up their noses at Ty’s rural upbringing, but the contrast to life in Joana’s home in the Philippines was stark. It wasn’t just the difference between being in the countryside versus being in the city. Tyrel hadn’t realized just how differently people could live around the world. When he saw her home, he felt like his eyes had been opened to reality.
Sleeping On The Floor
Ty’s family was close, but it was nothing compared to Joana’s family. In fact, the entire family, eight people in total, shared one 10 by 19 square foot dwelling. Their home was almost entirely devoid of furniture, as everyone slept on the floor of one room, together. Ty couldn’t help but notice disparity. He would say, “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.”
Ty was having a blast during his 10 day trip to Quenzon, but he was already dreading having to leave Joana. “I wanted to spend every moment I could with Joana while I was there, because once I left I didn’t know what would happen next,” Tyrel said. “All I knew was Joana was the one.” That being said, he tried to push the thought of his departure away, so he could better enjoy the moments he was spending with Joana.
A Sad Goodbye
When Ty’s 10 days in the Philippines were drawing to a close, he was reluctant to say goodbye to Joanna and her family. Neither one of them knew when Ty would get the chance to return to her again. Before he left, he promised Joana that he would figure out a way to return as soon as possible. In the meantime, their relationship would have to resume over Skype. However, in order to be official, Joana required Ty to get permission from her father first.
Cutting The Anticipation
It wouldn’t be long before Ty returned. His initial trip took place in May 2013, but by November, he found himself back on a plane bound for the archipelago. Ty was ready to stay for a full month this time, but it didn’t take long before he knew he wanted to marry Joana. Though Ty would have assumed it was her father Jun who would be the obstacle to their love, in turned out to be her mother, Racel.
Jumping Through Hoops
Jun saw how happy Ty made his daughter and felt sure it would be an appropriate match, especially because of their shared faith. His wife felt differently, however. Racel insisted that the couple was too young to get married. Ty was only 20 years old, but he knew in his heart that he had to be with Joana. He was determined to prove to Racel that marriage would be the right choice for the couple. With that, his scheming began.
Finding The Hook
As Ty returned to America once more, he was disappointed, but not discouraged. He knew there had to be a way to convince Racel that the young couple was ready to tie the knot. It would take cajoling his dad, Ivan, into joining him on his next trip to the Philippines. Ty’s parents weren’t against the union, and it seemed likely that if Ivan was on board, he could sway Racel’s opinion. Thus, the two set off across the world.
A Delayed Celebration
Ty’s calculation proved correct, and Ivan was able to ensure Racel that the pair was ready to take on such a big commitment. It wasn’t just the idea that they were claiming to be ready to be with one another for the rest of their lives. They would also have to decide where to live, either in the United States, or in the Philippines. Both were facing the possibility of a bigger adjustment than they’d ever dreamed of, but there was still one hurdle to overcome.
Ivan Saves The Day
Before Ty and Ivan left Joana’s family, Joana’s mother wanted Ivan to know just how critical his visit was to forming her opinion. Ty shared with people that before they left, Racel went up to Ivan and said, “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.” Ty breathed a sigh of relief at these proceedings, and the family celebrated the couple’s engagement.
Taking On America
The couple decided that it would be better for them to start their life together in the United States, as Ty had a job that could not only support his new family, but would even allow the pair to send money back to Joana’s family. The only thing standing in their way before the could marry was United States bureaucracy. They would have to get Joana a visa before she could join Ty and his parents in Idaho.
Joana was anxious going into her visa meeting at the United States Embassy in Manila. There was so much riding on whether or not they would allow her into the country. She had all the documentation she needed with her, which she shuffled back and forth in her hands until her name was called. She was elated when she received final approval to enter the US. There would still be something missing at her and Ty’s wedding, however.
Ever After At Last
Joana and Ty planned their wedding for October 2014, a month after she arrived in the U.S. for the first time ever. Their wedding was held on Ty’s parents property, and they had over 100 guests in attendance. There were a few people who were sorely missed, however. Joana’s parents were not approved for visas to the United States, and therefore couldn’t attend in person. The couple honored Joana’s heritage during their ceremony, but they knew they had to do something special for her parents too.
Planning For The Future
As Joana’s parents were unable to see their daughter get married in person, the couple decided they would throw a second wedding ceremony back in the Philippines the next time they visit. When that would be, however, remained to be seen. Joana was excited to discover life in America, especially with Ty by her side. She was even more fortunate than she could have imagined. Because his job requires him to travel often, she’s already been to eight states.
Closing The Circle
Ty and Joana added another little twist to their wedding ceremony. Each of the guests was asked to put together a Christmas shoebox, like the one that had linked them together nearly 14 years before. Ty explained the decision to People, saying, “We don’t want to give them [the children] some fantasy, but we do want to show that we care and want to share our love. We both feel so blessed and grateful that Operation Christmas Child brought us together.”
Long Road To Quenzon
It would take the new couple longer than they expected before they would have the chance to celebrate their marriage with Joana’s friends and family who were still back in the Philippines. In the meantime, Ty brought Joana with him to wherever he had to travel for work, which included trips to Georgia, Minnesota, and even famed 20th century author, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s house. There was just one trip the couple was still longing to take.
It took almost until their second wedding anniversary, but the couple finally made their way back to the Philippines by October 2016, and Joana couldn’t have been more overjoyed to see her family once more. Though they had had their reservations, it warmed Racel and Jun’s hearts that the pair was absolutely thriving. Of course, Joana’s family members were still looking forward to getting to visit the United States eventually, where some even hoped they’d have a chance to see snow for the first time.
Living Her Dream
Though Joana had studied Hospitality and the Culinary Arts at her girls school in Manila, she lucky found domestic life to be so much more than she expected. Her family and friends back home were surprised that Joana was managing to work, given the constant adventures she seemed to be posting as she followed Ty wherever work took him, but no matter what, she would make sure to care for her new husband in her own way.
While they were in the midst of their long awaited visit to Quenzon, Joana and Ty had a big announcement to share with her family. The young couple was expecting their first child, and both sets of grandparents could not have been more excited. The baby was expected to arrive in the spring of 2017, a fitting homage to reliving their second meeting. Both Ty and Joana knew that the baby would change their lives for the better, but they couldn’t have imagined exactly how.
Ushering In Harlan
Joana gave birth to a health baby boy on May 15, 2017. Before they knew for certain, Ty had had a hunch that he would soon become a father to his son. His instinct proved correct, and the couple named their baby Harlan Jun, a nod to Joana’s own father, without whom she might never have reconnected to the love of her life. Joana took to motherhood quickly, and even became comfortable resuming her travels with their little baby in their arms.
Spreading Their Light
Joana and Ty have been excited to raise their son with the same values that brought them together in the first place. The proud parents have been happily documenting their sons first year on their social media pages, but it hasn’t prevented them from remembering how they were brought together in the first place. Since their re-introduction so many years after Ty’s box, they’ve made packing boxes with Samaritan’s Purse each December a family tradition to pass on through the ages.