ALUMNI UPDATE: Erica Grimaldi

Erica Grimaldi joined the women's basketball team as an invited walk-on in Melanie Balcomb's first season as coach. She stayed with the program for four seasons as the backup point guard and graduated in May of 2006. In January, VandyMania asked her what she's been up to since graduation. In her own words, here is her response.

Since graduating from Vanderbilt in the spring of 2006, it has been quite a 2+ years! I spent my first year out of college traveling with a Christian sports ministry called Athletes in Action. I was based out of Ohio, but I traveled often building relationships with other women's basketball players, speaking at school assemblies and mentoring young girls in a local treatment center. I even had the amazing opportunity to spend a few weeks each in France, Turkey and Brazil helping organize and lead teams of girls as well as compete and share the love of Jesus there.

My year internship with Athletes in Action ended in July of 2007 when I could no longer ignore the deep cry in my heart to be a missionary in Africa. I remember reading stories of men and women sleeping on the dirt, holding AIDS orphans and sharing the beauty and power of Christ even at the cost of their lives and I longed to go.

The door opened in September of 2007 and I was off to Mozambique, Africa (on the South-east border of Africa). I spent the next 9+ months with Iris Ministries, a Christian ministry that has thousands of orphans in their care and thousands of churches across the nation. Every day was such an adventure and my role changed all the time depending on the need. I spent a few months at one of the main bases helping care for nearly 200 orphans and lead a village lunch program for the hundreds of children that do not have food. I served another 2 months at a refugee camp with no electricity or running water to be found. I spent another season of the year in the big city ministering to girls in prostitution and coaching/playing on a girl's basketball team.

Overall, it was a year full of beauty as I lived among orphans, widows and the destitute and saw such extravagant life in the small, simple things we so easily pass by here in the States. It was also a year full of trials as several of our babies died, my best friend had to be airlifted out and almost died and I got malaria among other things. Most importantly, it was a year that expanded my heart in love for God and love for people. It awakened my eyes to how short and frail life is and gave me an urgency to seize the time I have to give Jesus all of me. I am more aware than ever that it is only a matter of moments before I will stand before God and give Him an account for my time here and I want to invest my life in what bears eternal fruit of life!

I came back from Africa in late June of 2008 and since then I have been living at home and helping with my family (I still have 4 younger siblings living at home). Recently I have decided to join the School of Ministry at the International House of Prayer, which is a Christian missions base founded on prayer, worship and proclaiming the beauty of Jesus. I still have a huge heart to share the love of Jesus through the nations but after nearly two years traveling I saw the desperate need to get more training, knowledge, and deeper roots of God's truth in my life to be that much more affective on the mission field (there were several instances where a lack of knowledge and training limited and restricted what I was able to do on the mission field).

I am committing the next few years to get trained and equipped through IHOP's phenomenal training program as I continue to share and serve along the way. Right now I am actually in the process of raising a support team that would financially support me and invest in my training here. Obviously this is only an update on my life, but if anyone has a desire to support what God is doing in and through me, either financially or through prayer please send me an email and I will share more:

As the years seem to quickly pass since graduating from Vanderbilt, the diamonds of life- experience, relationships, trials and victories that occurred as a Vanderbilt Women's basketball player have clearly shaped, formed and molded me in ways I am eternally grateful for. Last week I attended my first Vandy women's game since graduating when they played Iowa State and a flood of memories and emotions came rushing back. It seemed like just yesterday when Jen and Tina were wide-eyed freshmen, yet now they both are out there leading and running the show. College basketball is so much more than a game with a round ball and hoop: It is a catalyst into learning some of the most powerful lessons in life. You see 12 or 15 girls sweating and laying their bodies out for one another, but what you don't see are the sleepless nights of studying, the wrestling with the fears and excitements of being away from home for the first time, the perseverance needed to not quit when the mundane of the off-season is setting in and the battle every girl has in letting their identity rest in who they are as a person, not in how sweet (or off) their jump-shot is.

On the very first day of my freshmen year practice Coach Balcomb said that life is not stagnant but it is always changing and we are either growing or shrinking back all the time. I completely agree and I thank God for the Vanderbilt family, the coaches and for the teammates that I got to play with as we linked arms and got to ride the roller-coaster of college basketball with one another and become more beautiful through the journey!
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This picture is of me and one of my favorite friends Angela in Mozambique. She more than likely has HIV and she was usually running a fever, yet she taught me so much about suffering and joy in the midst.

This picture gives just a tiny glimpse into some of the suffering that people were living through. This is at one of the refugee camps and this entire family lived in this tiny straw hut with no running water, electricity or beds. It also rained quite a bit there and the water just goes right through (I know from experience!), yet in the midst these were some of the most beautiful and faith-filled people I have ever met.

This picture is of me and one of my "babies" in Mozambique, Sabina. She has an amazing story of abuse and restoration and she is only five years old.

This picture is of some of the village girls selling mangoes. I was always amazed at how men and women could just about anything on their head. I would try to carry water on my head from the pump and by the time I got back to our camp I was exhausted and over half of it was spilled and these girls half my size would not have spilled one drop and could walk a few more miles no problem (so much for all that basketball conditioning!)

This picture is of the joy of the children in Mozambique. Many of the kids I worked with only got fed one meal a day and it was usually beans and rice, yet they exuded a joy and trust in the midst that has spurred me on!

All photos courtesy of Erica Grimaldi

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