Writer / Ann Craig-Cinnamon
When 24-year-old Donovan McCloskey graduated from the IU School of Informatics and Computer Science last year, he had a job all lined up, and it appeared his future was set. For the average freshly-graduated young person, that might be a dream come true. But for Donovan, a longtime Zionsville resident and Zionsville High School graduate, it just didn’t feel like the right path. He decided to shake things up a bit.
McCloskey had heard about an organization called Adventures in Missions, or AIM, based in Gainesville, Georgia. AIM is a 12-year-old Christian organization that offers mission trips around the world. The flagship trip is known as the World Race and is for young people between the ages of 21 and 35. McCloskey signed up, becoming a “racer,” and set out on an 11-month mission trip that took him to 11 different countries: four in Asia, three in Africa and four in South America, spending a month in each country.
Once in-country, McCloskey, along with his squad of 55 “racers” from all over the U.S. and Canada, got split up into teams of five to eight people and were then placed in a city or village to perform projects for their host organization. The host ranged from worldwide organizations to local families or pastors. The team then helped the host for a full month doing whatever work was needed.
“No two months were the same for me this year because each host had different needs,” says McCloskey. “Some months, we were [helping] churches. Some months, we were [helping] children’s ministries, and some months, we were teaching English. They were all different and were all serving different needs.”
His most rewarding experience was in Cambodia where he and his team worked at a girls’ orphanage. However, it was not a typical orphanage. It was full of girls whose families had gotten into debt or were experiencing some sort of difficulties, which put the girls at risk of being sold to tourists to pay off the debt. A government organization identifies these families with girls who are “at risk” and then approaches them to offer the girls temporary care and education rather than being sold into the sex trade. “When we heard this, we were thinking these girls were probably 9 to 18. But the most common age was like 5 to 9 because by the time they get to 18, they’re pretty much on their own,” he says. “There were 15 girls there while we were there, and the average age was around 7 or 8.”
The goal of the orphanage is to become self-sustaining, so all needs come from their own land. “We helped with that and dug roughly 1,500 feet of irrigation lines, set up drains, digging holes, doing forest clearing – lots of manual labor working eight hours a day in the sun, but it was a really fun month,” says McCloskey. At night, the team would teach the girls English and play games with them.
“That month was rewarding because you would hear about these girls and you would hear their stories, and some had really traumatic things happen to them at a young age. And if anyone has a right to be angry towards men and have animosity, it would be these girls because of the things they have seen,” he says. “We walked onto the property as 12 strange men, and they came up to us and gave us hugs and were so loving. That month redefined for me what love and grace are. It was a really powerful month, and it was really hard to leave them,” says McCloskey.
One benefit to the World Race is that while in each country, the racers get at least two days a week as adventure days where they get to go out, see the country and experience the culture.
Overall, McCloskey found it profoundly inspirational. “Through this trip, I found I had a passion for photography and film and telling stories,” says McCloskey who bought his first camera for the mission trip and had no photography experience prior to it. “The World Race definitely opened my eyes and gave me a new perspective and also revealed a passion of mine to go out, serve, do film and tell stories,” he says. His experience made him want to do more. “I don’t see myself living a conventional American job or life sitting behind a computer. I think that is less likely now that I have had this experience.”
In November, an opportunity to continue his mission path came up immediately following his return to Zionsville from the World Race when he was invited to participate in a pilot program with AIM in Uganda. He and a small team of eight former World Racers are spending January and February documenting the refugees that are flooding into Uganda from South Sudan.
“The Uganda host and AIM have a 10-year plan of all the things they want to do in the region like building medical clinics, setting up schools, building communities … long-term initiatives for the refugees. We, the film crew, are the catalyst to getting out the word and getting more attention to the crisis but also raising funds for the 10-year initiative,” says McCloskey who will be behind the camera shooting a series of documentaries. Each will focus on a different issue, such as water, education and life inside the refugee camp.
McCloskey says he is grateful for his life growing up in Zionsville and now wants to spend his life serving others. “For me, I need to have a job or a position that is spreading the Gospel, sharing the Good News and just helping people. I don’t think helping people is always going somewhere and picking up a hammer. It’s going and listening to their stories, hearing them and being a person that listens instead of talks,” says McCloskey. “A lot of people just want to be heard, and usually they know their situation better than you do, so listen to them before trying to help.”
For more information and to donate, visit McCloskey’s blog at donovanmccloskey.kingdomjourneys.org.
Donovan McCloskey’s team intro video on YouTube:
Donovan McCloskey’s team Facebook page: