A Christian couple that grew up thousands of miles apart miraculously reunited and recently married--all thanks to international humanitarian organization Samaritan's Purse.
A story recounted on the Samaritan's Purse website reveals that 14 years ago, the family of 7-year-old Tyrel participated in the organization's initiative Operation Christmas Child, which shares Jesus' Name by providing toys and other goodies to needy children around the world.
While attending vacation Bible school graduation in the Philippines, eight-year-old Joana, received Tyrel's box--and the message of Jesus Christ that came along with the gift changed her life.
Joana's father also received Christ shortly after the shoebox arrived, and soon become a pastor.
Because the box had meant too much to her family, Joana decided to write Tyrel a thank-you note--which he never received at his home in Idaho.
In 2011, Joana decided to try to find Tyrel on Facebook.
"I still wanted to thank the person who gave me the box that had meant so much to me," she said.
Joana and Tyrel got to know one another via Facebook for one year, exchanging updates and photos between Idaho and the Philippines. Despite the 15-hour time difference and busy schedules, they would set aside a couple of hours in the morning and again at night for daily Facebook visits.
Eventually, the couple decided it was time to meet in real life. Tyrel saved enough money to visit Joana and her family overseas, and they immediately fell in love.
"Once I saw his face, an amazing feeling came over me," Joana shared. "I was so happy I cried."
"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 told Samaritan's Purse. "All I knew was Joana was the one."
The couple married on October 5, 2014 on Tyrel's parents' 400-acre ranch, and asked their guests to help pack Operation Christmas Child boxes to send to children overseas.
"Operation Christmas Child is what brought Joana and me together, so we wanted to somehow make the project a part of our celebration," explained Tyrel.
The young couple is looking forward to their first Christmas--and packing Operation Christmas Child boxes--together.
"And when we start having children, we want to involve them in packing boxes too," said Tyrel. "I remember as a little boy, I was so excited to know the toys and other items I put in the box would bring joy to another child somewhere else in the world.
"I just didn't know the joy it would bring back to me one day."
You can learn more about Operation Christmas Child here.