What are your fondest childhood memories of Christmas? The tree? The decorations? The dinner? How about the presents? There was nothing more exciting as a child, to run downstairs or check the bottom of the bed, to see if Santa had been. However, for some children there are no presents on Christmas day. For those less fortunate, they will be lucky to eat anything on 25th December, never mind a Christmas feast. It’s for this reason, Christmas Shoebox appeals were started.
If you’ve never heard of a Christmas shoebox appeal, the premise is quite simple. You take an empty shoebox and fill it with gifts and essentials, to be sent to a child less fortunate. Many big charities hold a shoebox appeal, and it’s something that many schools across the world get involved with. Each shoebox would be filled with toys, school supplies, sweets, toiletries, and other little presents, before being wrapped up and sent off. These shoe boxes are shipped to some of the poorest countries in the world, including Africa, India and war-torn towns and villages. From the 1st November, local churches, community halls and schools start building their boxes and getting them ready to be shipped to children in need.
Along with each of the gifts that are carefully selected and packed into each box, many people also choose to send letters and pictures to whichever child will be receiving their gift. Usually, these little bits of paper will be cast aside as the grateful child digs into their box, desperate to explore all of their new toys and gifts. However, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes the letters and pictures are the best part of a shoebox, for the child that receives them. They’ve met someone new, someone that cares about them, and someone they can consider a friend from the other side of the world. Now, isn’t that a beautiful thought?
The intriguing stranger
In 2011 a young American man received an intriguing online message from a woman living in the Philippines that demanded she knew who he was and that she has something important to tell him, yet he didn’t recognize her or have any connections he knew of to this woman. So how could this stranger know who he was, and why did she want to be in contact with him so badly?
Trying to get the full story
Incredibly, this mystery woman seemed to have an unbelievable story as to how she knew this stranger all those miles away in another country. However, the story made absolute sense to the young man after hearing all the details, and against everything this amazing woman had finally managed to track down and locate the man she had been looking for.
Starting with a cowboy
Back in 2000, seven-year-old Tyrel Wolfe’s story began. While living with his parents in Midvale, Idaho, this young boy made a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child, a box that he could fill with all the necessities and fun toys for children that weren’t as fortunate. Wolfe carefully selected what he would send off, and put one very significant thing into this box that would lead to the message all those years later.
Choosing the perfect things
While Wolfe was packing up his Christmas shoebox to send off, he placed inside a photograph of himself too, and the box was soon ready to be sent off from the church to somewhere in the world to a child that needed it to help make their day even more special for them. After sending it off, Wolfe didn’t think about it again, until the fateful day he logged onto Facebook in 2011 to see his message that would get the ball rolling.
Unfamiliar friend request
Receiving an unknown friend request from a name he didn’t recognize, Wolfe’s curiosity got the better of him, and he responded to see what the mystery person had to say. It was to his surprise that Wolfe got a reply from Joan Marchan, a woman living in the Philippines, telling him she had a picture of him as a child and got it from all places, a shoe box!
Getting the truth
Marchan explained that she had received the shoebox with the photograph from Operation Christmas Child many years ago, and had tried to send a letter all that time ago in return to thank him. However, Wolfe hadn’t ever received the letter and wasn’t sure whether to believe her story. He asked for a description of the photograph in question to see if Marchan was actually telling the truth.
To his surprise, a description of a photo of a young boy dressed in a cowboy outfit was given to him! Over the next three weeks, Marchan and Wolfe spent their time chatting online and used the time to get to know each other. The pair were amazed at everything they had in common, and after bonding over their love of Christian music, they realized that time had flown past. Before they knew it, they had been talking for a whole year, but they were unsure of where the relationship was going.
Growing even closer
They grew ever closer, but no one knew where this shoe box relationship was going, let alone Wolfe and Marchan. After all these years searching for her mystery cowboy, Marchan had finally now found the man she was searching for. The next question is what the two would do being so far away from each other, but practically two halves of a whole.
Taking a leap of faith
Taking the plunge, and saving up enough money, Wolfe finally booked a ticket to fly to Manila to find his new mystery friend. Even though he had never traveled anywhere alone before, Wolfe had the excitement of seeing where this friendship could go, and what could blossom once the pair were finally united face to face to keep him going and settle his nerves, but how would it go when he stepped off of the plane?
Upon arriving in Manila, all nerves disappeared once the two set eyes on each other and were finally able to meet in person. The attraction was immediately there from Wolfe’s side, and to his luck, Marchan felt the same way. After meeting, Wolfe then went on to spend time living with Marchan’s family and getting to know everyone. Time would tell if her family would accept her new friend into their lives the way that she had.
A big question to ask someone
Time quickly ran away for the Marchan and Wolfe, and it was soon Wolfe’s time to fly back home to the U.S., but this time alone. The couple had quickly fallen in love with each other and continued to keep in contact over Skype. However, a few months later, Wolfe planned to return to Manila, and this time he had a big agenda with an important question to ask someone.
Trying to get permission
Wolfe planned to ask Marchan’s father for his permission for her hand in marriage. Her father agreed to the plan. However, her mother was unsure about it all saying they should both wait before they committed to anything serious like this. Wolfe persuaded his father to fly to Manila to meet his mystery woman and her family, and as soon as he had, everything was agreed. Could anything stand in the way of true love after all these years?
The perfect tribute
Nothing stood in the young couple’s way, and in October 2014, on Wolfe’s parents’ ranch, the happy couple married. Wolfe even wore a barong, a traditional Filipino garment, during the wedding ceremony. In honor to how they met, they asked the guests to the wedding to create a Christmas shoebox themselves, the perfect dedication to how Marchan and Wolfe’s love story began all those years ago, but that wasn’t the end of the story.
Their own kind of honeymoon
After the wedding, the couple drove to North Carolina for their own kind of honeymoon; to deliver all the shoeboxes to the Samaritan’s Purse in person, this being the same organization that brought them together in the first place. The pair then agreed that every year from then they would make more shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. The couple also left a little surprise inside the shoe boxes for all the children that would get them.
A little story
All the shoe boxes that Wolfe and Marchan donated contained a small note explaining the tale of how the two had met, but they said they didn’t want to give anybody the wrong impression or send out the wrong message, and didn’t give the children a fantasy to read. The pair just wanted to share their love they share after the charity bought them the greatest gift of all in each other. The couple would now have to adjust to their married life, and for Marchan, a change of country altogether.
Adjusting to a new life together
After getting married, Marchan and Wolfe settled down near to where his parents live, and have been making the most of married life so far. With Marchan having never been to the U.S. before, she has managed to see many parts of the country with her new husband because of the amount of travel required with Wolfe’s work. With all the traveling around, would the couple be able to cope with all the change?
Life outside, compared to life in the city
Marchan (now Marchan-Wolfe) has had a lot to adjust to with her new husband after growing up in the Philippines. Going from being raised in the city, to living out in the country has its differences, including the people, traffic, noise, and the newfound space. Over the next few years, it would tell if the couple could create real lives together, and where the next steps in their futures would go.
New footsteps in their lives
After having been married happily for nearly three years, on Facebook in May 2017, the couple had very exciting news, and some more adjustments to make as they proudly announced the birth of their baby boy! Now they have some extra footsteps to join them on their journey as they discover the joys of parenthood together, and can start their new chapter as a little family with the new addition.
The proud new parents
Wolfe and Marchan have received hundreds of congratulatory messages for their new son, who they named Harlann Jun Wolfe. Having the new addition to the family seems to complete the already incredible story that has followed these two.
After finding each other with just one photograph of a young cowboy, and the power of social media, it now seems that life for these two seems to be extraordinary – almost a modern day fairytale! Perhaps these two show that your soul mate does actually exist out there, no matter how far away they may be in this world!