Born to Assist

Google Marist’s guard Grace Vander Weide. The results are articles from her DWI while a sophomore at Missouri State.

What is overlooked from the headlines is the numerous mission trips and unwavering commitment to her faith.

In eighth grade, Grace Vander Weide and her family accepted an invitation to join her AAU basketball coach and family friend, Jake Sullivan, to go on a mission trip to Ghana.

“To experience the culture in Ghana was awesome, and I’ve been hooked ever since,” Vander Weide said.

Since her first trip to Ghana, Vander Weide has been on six mission trips, although her reasons for going has changed over time.

Vander Weide was charged with a DWI in August 2016 and indefinitely suspended from the basketball team at Missouri State, but was allowed to stay in school. Photo by Nick Rudzewick.

“The first couple of trips it was like, ‘Wow this is so cool. It will look cool to go. My family is going. They are paying for the trips. I’ll go!’” Vander Weide said. “Now it’s completely different. I fund my own trips and I want to go because I feel called to do so.”

When she first arrived in Ghana, she was struck by the impoverishment.

“As soon as we touched down, I saw the poverty right away,” Vander Weide said. “You can see poverty in videos and pictures, but you don’t really understand until you see it with your own eyes.”

Vander Weide remembers wanting to give the little change her parents gave to her to the kids begging outside her car, but she quickly learned that the car would be swarmed with people wanting money. On her trips, Vander Weide saw the struggle of the children who grow up there.

“The kids in Ghana do not have a lot of opportunities to go to school or have jobs,” Vander Weide explained. “Even if they get to go to university, the chances of them getting a substantial job is very unlikely because there really aren’t any unless you work for the government.”  

As part of the medical mission trip, Vander Weide spent her time in Ghana signing families up for health insurance.

“We raised a bunch of funds [back home]. It only costs three dollars per month to sign somebody up for health insurance,” Vander Weide said. “We built a medical center, but the people in the village couldn’t use it because they didn’t have health care.”

One memory that stands out for Vander Weide from her mission trips was when she discovered a boy while working at her clinic with a major staph infection completely down his leg.

The Vander Weide family funded two major surgeries that the child needed in order to save a young boy’s leg, and adopted three children from Ghana. Photo by Nick Rudzewick.

“It looked like his leg was broken because it was swollen so badly and his foot was completely turned,” she said. “My mom had experience dealing with staph infections, so I called her up and said, ‘Mom you need to come see this boy. He has staph infection and I think it’s getting in his bloodstream,’ which could kill him.”

In addition to taking the young boy to the main city of Accra to see a doctor, the Vander Weide family also funded two major surgeries that the child needed in order to save his leg and his life.

“In Ghana, if you have an amputated leg, the rest of your life would be dedicated to begging on the streets. There’s not much else to do. You’re limited to that,” Vander Weide said. “It was one of those things where God put us in the right place at the right time.”

Even though the places she has visited are impoverished, Vander Weide has noticed how the people’s spirits are high and they have a positive outlook.

“They’re broken but they are happier than we are,” Vander Weide said. “They have less materialistic things, but they are happier.”

Her take away from her mission trips isn’t the cliche response you often hear when somebody is discussing visiting a less-fortunate country.

“People always ask me when I come back from a mission trip, ‘Doesn’t it make you appreciate what you have?’” Vander Weide said. “No, it makes me sick for what I have actually.”

Vander Weide’s Christian faith has always been an extremely influential part of her life as she grew up in a traditional Christian household in West Des Moines, Iowa.

“I was preached Jesus at a young age. I knew who Jesus was. I knew The Gospel, but I didn’t have a relationship with Jesus until I got to college and made it my own and experienced joy through him,” Vander Weide said.

She also learned a lot from her parents about the value of giving back.

“I can tell especially from my mom, the way that she gives is fulfilling,” Vander Weide said. “It’s what we are called to do I feel.”

Leading the team with 4.4 assists per game, Vander Weide was the team’s starting point guard. Throughout the season, her leadership proved to be a great asset to the team. Photo by Nick Rudzewick.

Going on mission trips has had a profound impact for Vander Weide for many reasons, but none more directly than the Vander Weide family growing by three. Grace’s parents were planning to pursue a domestic adoption, but their minds were changed when Grace’s mother met a child named Job while visiting an orphanage in Ghana.

“Job, the oldest adopted, was actually in timeout and he wasn’t allowed to see visitors,” Vander Weide said. “But my mom found this room where he was in, it was a shack basically, in the back of the building. My mom started bonding with him right away.”

When the Vander Weide family looked into adopting Job, they found out he had two siblings that were also available for adoption. Wishing to keep the family together, the Vander Weide’s ended up adopting all three at the same time.

Before transferring to Marist, where she is currently a redshirt sophomore guard on the women’s basketball team, she attended Missouri State University her freshman year, where she came off the bench an average of 9.1 minutes per game.

Vander Weide’s character would soon be challenged when she was arrested on August 26, 2016—one week into her sophomore year at Missouri State.

“It was the most stressful time in my life,” she said. “It was everywhere.”

Vander Weide was charged with a DWI and indefinitely suspended from the basketball team at Missouri State, but was allowed to stay in school. 

When she was going through what she described as “rock bottom,” Vander Weide turned to her faith for guidance.

“I thought I was using basketball as a platform for good, but I am not. I am really lying to myself when I say that,” she said. “I recovered from it by getting to know Jesus and experiencing his grace and believing that he forgave me for what I did.”

Following the arrest, Vander Weide transferred mid-season to Marist. She redshirted for the 2016-17 season and had to sit out until December of the 2017-18 season.

“636 days I had to wait to play,” Vander Weide said off the top of her head. “But I definitely wasn’t counting.”

Upon her arrival to Marist, Vander Weide helped start a student-athlete Bible study group on campus, wanting others to experience the joy that Christianity has brought her.

“The thing that is great for her is that she has a number of players on this team who are very into their faith,” Coach Brian Giorgis said. “They have gravitated towards one another, and it helps in terms of relationships with each other.”

Vander Weide returned to the court against Temple in December this season. “It felt weird putting on a jersey,” Vander Weide said. “I had a lot of adrenaline going in. I was nervous for it, but my teammates did a good job helping through that process.”

Leading the team with 4.4 assists per game, Vander Weide was the team’s starting point guard. Throughout the season, her leadership proved to be a great asset to the team.

“She was born to lead. She is a leader to the helm,” Giorgis said. “All you have to do is watch her play and direct traffic out on the court to see her leadership skills.”

Vander Weide said that Giorgis’ coaching style is different from all the others she has experienced throughout her career.

“One of the main differences between the schools is the coaching style,” Vander Weide said. “At Missouri State, it was how high you can jump? How fast can you run? Here, it’s how well can you use your brain and how much you can think about the game?”

While Vander Weide plans on continuing her basketball career after graduation as a coach, she is keeping other options open to express her faith.

“I have always seen myself capable of living in Africa and being a full-time missionary,” Vander Weide said. “But I’m not sure if that’s the way God is calling me. It’s a thing I still pray about every day.”

Until then, Vander Weide is right where she needs to be.

“She is confident. She knows what we want,” Giorgis said. “She was born to be a point guard.”

Edited by Kristin Dolan and Matt Rzodkiewicz

Author: David Salamone

David Salamone is a Marist student studying sports communication and journalism. He has interned at St. Martin's Press and the Daily Gazette. As a senior, he is slowly accepting the fact he needs to adjust to adult life.

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