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Going the distance for love

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As long-distance relationships go, theirs was a ridiculously distant one.

As in 7,157 miles, the distance between Albuquerque, where Jeremy Reynalds lives, and Tel Aviv, Israel, where Elma Cabug lived. After she moved back to her hometown of Davao, Philippines, last July, the distance jumped to 7,987 miles.

That didn’t stop them. What is it they say about love? It knows no distance, no boundaries, no excessive phone bills?

In many ways, distance was the easy part of this love story. What was hard was jumping through the bureaucratic hoops, untangling the red tape and bundling the stacks of documents from three different countries to obtain the visa Cabug needed to legally enter the United States so that the two of them could live happily ever after in New Mexico.

“It was bureaucracy gone amok,” said Reynalds, who, yes, is the guy who runs Joy Junction, the largest emergency homeless shelter in New Mexico. “It was unbelievable amounts of paperwork – fingerprints, background checks, bank statements, birth certificates, phone bills, love letters.”

Jeremy Reynalds and Elma Cabug were all smiles for this photo, taken days before their wedding day Friday. The couple waited a year for Cabug's visa to be approved so she could come to the United States. (Courtesy of Jeremy Reynalds)

Jeremy Reynalds and Elma Cabug were all smiles for this photo, taken days before their wedding day Friday. The couple waited a year for Cabug’s visa to be approved so she could come to the United States. (Courtesy of Jeremy Reynalds)

And posts on social media. Which was weird.

“The government looks at everything to make sure the relationship isn’t a sham,” he said. “Even Facebook.”

By the time you read this, Reynalds, 57, and Cabug, 47, will be husband and wife, married by longtime Joy Junction chaplain, Gene Shiplet, in a small ceremony at the Courtyard Marriott.

“I found the woman I’ve been looking for all my life,” gushes Reynalds, who has been married before.

It’s Cabug’s first marriage. And her first time in the United States.

“In my younger days, my dream was to come to America,” she said. “But as you get older, you think it is too late for dreams, too late for love. Now, I feel I am starting life again.”

Until recently, Cabug was a caregiver for the elderly in Israel; Reynalds is the ubiquitous face of Joy Junction, spending most of his time fund-raising, networking and schmoozing.

They met on eHarmony, an online dating service, in early 2013 and exchanged a couple of letters. No fireworks flew. But a friendship grew.

“We are both Christians and love to help the poor, hungry, marginalized and disenfranchised,” Reynalds wrote in an article about the relationship for the ASSIST News Service.

They continued to correspond via email for about three months. Then came the phone calls once a week. Then twice a week. Then every night.

“I would call at 10 p.m., which was morning in Israel,” Reynalds said. “We’d talk and talk and talk. She would have her morning coffee, and so I started drinking coffee. She had me drinking coffee at night.”

In October, Reynalds flew to Tel Aviv to spend a week with her. Everything clicked.

“But I didn’t realize how much I loved her until I was leaving and at the airport,” Reynalds said. “It was like leaving half my heart.”

They became engaged in March 2014, though they learned quickly how hard it was to take their relationship to the next level.

They began to gather the paperwork needed for Reynalds to petition for a fiancée K-1 nonimmigrant visa, which would permit Cabug to travel to the United States to be married within 90 days of entering the country.

“We intended to keep things quiet, but our lawyer said the government looks for proof of a relationship on social media and such,” Reynalds said. “So we posted our engagement news and our engagement was secret no more.”

The process to obtain the K-1 visa, Reynalds said, was harder than it was in 1978 when he arrived in the United States from his native England.

“It’s gotten incredibly more difficult,” said Reynalds, who became an American citizen in 1998.

Jeremy Reynalds and Elma Cabug spent much of their time earlier this year waiting for word of her visa in the Philippines. They were married in Albuquerque on Friday. (Courtesy of Jeremy Reynalds)

Jeremy Reynalds and Elma Cabug spent much of their time earlier this year waiting for word of her visa in the Philippines. They were married in Albuquerque on Friday. (Courtesy of Jeremy Reynalds)

Cabug moved back to the Philippines in July 2014, where she continued the process of accessing the documents needed for the visa. She had her interview with the U.S. embassy in Manila, Philippines, on Jan. 29, a crucial part of the process. After submitting three final documents, the waiting began.

“We couldn’t do anything other than let the wheels of the bureaucratic process run their course,” said Reynalds, who traveled to Davao in January to wait with Cabug for the news.

Finally, in February the visa was approved. The happy couple left the Philippines on March 11 and arrived the next day in Albuquerque.

Since then, it has been an almost nonstop swirl of wedding preparations and introducing Cabug to Reynalds’ turf.

“I am looking forward to working together with him and supporting him, whatever I can do to be part of the Joy Junction mission,” she said.

So far, Cabug said she finds Albuquerque beautiful, cozy and admirable for its wide roadways and big vistas.

“You can see everything for miles,” she said.

But all that Reynalds sees is her – and, now, not from such a long distance.

Talk about a joy junction.

UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

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