SAN VICENTE, Philippines — The Island of Catanduanes, distinguished by the name "Land of the Howling Wind," is located on the eastern side of the Philippine Islands where great typhoons of the Pacific are frequent visitors. Even children recognize that when the trees begin to dance, great danger is on the way. Dwelling there are hearty and courageous people who battle for survival against not only typhoons, but also mud slides, floods and washed-out bridges as well.

Rather isolated in the far north of this island is the village of San Vicente.

In the late 1970s, Veneracion (Vene) Villamartin was quite a typical young girl on the island, except for her unique and intense desire for a college education. In 1979, she and her older sister, Salve, left their small village and headed for the provincial capital, Virac. Soon, they were settled in the local boarding school and enrolled in Catanduanes College. All the while, Salve felt a heavy responsibility to watch over her younger sister in the bustling big city of strangers.

It was in Virac that the missionaries first contacted Vene. She was interested in their message, but her older sister did everything she could to dissuade her.

"I played the role of Satan," Salve would later say. "I went to the landlady in charge of our boarding house. When my sister, Vene, returned home from school at 9 p.m., the landlady was to forbid her to use any electricity. Lights must be turned out immediately. I did this so my sister couldn't study that Book of Mormon."

It was soon apparent that the older, protective sister had to take even more drastic steps to keep her sister away from the Church.

"One day, I told Vene that we must move immediately to another boarding house," Salve said. "I knew the Mormon elders would never find her again."

After some time passed with a relative degree of peace between the sisters, there was a knock on the door. It was the elders again. They asked to see Vene. Salve lied to them, telling them that no one named Vene lived there. The missionaries sadly retreated. Just then, Vene, having heard people at the door, came into the room to see who the visitors were. Looking out the window, she saw the missionaries walking away. She ran after them and begged them to come back.

Vene was baptized in February 1983 while living in Virac. Just over a year later, she was called to serve in the Philippines Cebu Mission.

After her mission, she completed her college education in elementary education, returned to her home in San Vicente and applied for teaching positions. She met her future husband, Gerry Molina, who was applying for the same job opening. Vene was hired. They married and later taught at the San Vicente Elementary School.

Vene went about her life as an "example of the believers," reaching out with love and hope to her neighbors. She was the pioneer. She had a great influence on several family members, including her husband who joined the Church a few years later. Gradually, the villagers began to soften toward the Mormons. Even Vene's sister who had played "the devil's advocate" joined the Church with her husband. Eventually, Vene and Gerry Molina received permission to hold a "group meeting." The year was 1998 and there were four members.

A super typhoon went over their village with a destructive vengeance in May 2004. The "howling wind" destroyed homes, crops and products. Some villagers blamed their misfortune on the Mormons and became hostile. Persecution raged.

Along with many other homes, that of the Ibardaloza family was completely destroyed. The parents, Leting and Betty, had been attending the little branch for two years and were paying their tithing faithfully even though they were not baptized members.

Philippines Naga Mission President Tim Martin decided to begin sending missionaries to the San Vicente area. Gradually, some of the villagers were referred to the missionaries by Vene and the Church began to grow. One of the first families taught by the missionaries was the Ibardaloza family. Sister Ibardaloza was expecting twins to add to their other five children. Her husband had lost an arm in a fishing accident. They lived in Sagrada and walked a great distance to Church every Sunday. After receiving all the missionary lessons, this family was baptized by Elder Eric Bautiste.

In describing the baptism, Elder Bautiste said: "It was a lovely morning wherein the saints of San Vicente gathered together to witness their baptism. It was a spiritual event both for the believers and the unbelievers. We held the service in the beautiful small river of Sagrada. There was a crowd of people watching, approximately 60 in number. Some of them were mocking and laughing, but still they could not deny the Spirit enveloping the service. After that great spiritual experience, we received dozens of referrals and investigators swarming over us, who hungered for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Other families requested to be taught by the missionaries, some of whom were the most prominent persecutors of the Church in its early stages in San Vicente."

Shortly thereafter, another typhoon hit this remote area and Betty Ibardaloza gave birth to her twins during its fury.

Elder Bautiste related: "Everyone seemed so happy and comforted, but our joy was but for a small moment. The news spread out so fast that Sister Betty had passed away. She died of a heart attack, leaving seven children in the care of a grieving father. Villagers said that this great calamity had befallen the family because they had joined the Mormon Church.

"The people would not let Sister Betty be buried in the village cemetery. They said harsh words that we should look for a plot to bury our own dead, not in their lot. One good individual heard these things and grieved because of the unkind actions of others. She donated a parcel of land in which to bury Sister Betty.

"Through all the persecutions, the saints of San Vicente became more unified, more firm in their testimony and more faithful to Him."

Brother Ibardaloza sadly stated: "Though my wife had passed away, I know that I can be with her in eternity. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can be sealed in the temple as a family. My testimony has become more strong that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God and the Book of Mormon is a word of God and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true Church here on earth."

Through all the many miracles that happened in San Vicente, courage was manifested, faith was tried and testimony was built.

For many years, Vene pled with her Father in Heaven in prayer, "Why did you determine the bounds of my habitation to be in the far north of this island where I am all alone in the gospel?" Today, she smiles with the assurance that the Lord placed her in San Vicente to be an instrument in His hands to help others find the truth.

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalm 30:50).