Help Me Bring Joel to Panama!

So first up, I'm way way wayyyy behind on blogging. So I apologize for those who are regulars around here and haven't seen much in the way of recent work. I am planning to get on that soon. I've been incredibly busy and also working through some health issues that have had me fairly distracted the last few months. But keep an eye out for some updates soon! In the mean time, I wanted to share a VERY important post.

In June of 2018 I will be leading a mission trip to Caisan Panama with Eleven22. If you've been following here for a while you may have seen my last trip to Panama. (adamszarmack.com/panama) But now I am being called back and this time to lead! I am incredibly excited about this opportunity since I just led another mission trip to Jamaica back in late August that was amazing. (adamszarmack.com/jamaica) While I was there I met a very special young man named Joel. He is 15 years old and one of the most gifted young musicians I have ever seen. During my time there he and I got the incredible opportunity to do musical ministry for many local kids in Jamaica ranging from music lessons to worship gatherings. Through that experience I developed a great relationship with his family and of course with Joel as well. At the end of the trip, Joel's dad asked me if I could do my best to stay a part of Joel's life and be a role model for him. I promised him I would although at times it has been challenging due to us living in separate countries. But when I found out I was going back to Panama next summer, God immediately put it on my heart to take Joel with me on this trip. But it's not exactly the easiest thing down in Jamaica for their family to raise money as simple as we can here in America.

And that leads me to the point of this post...

I have talked through some logistics with Eleven22 and with Joel's family and I have made it a personal goal of mine to raise the money to help cover the cost of Joel's trip participation. The total amount of the trip for a regular participant is $1,800. If you are reading this now anything is stirring in your heart, YOU can be a part of supporting what would be an INCREDIBLE opportunity for Joel by contributing financially in ANY way you can. NO AMOUNT IS TOO SMALL.

To make a financial donation towards Joel's trip cost simply go to the following link. You can make an online donation and even do so anonymously if you'd feel more comfortable doing so.

And if at this time you are unable to donate, please consider passing this along to someone you know who may be able to.

With absolute utmost sincerity,
Adam Szarmack

ME AND JOEL LEADING SOME KIDS IN MUSIC DOWN IN JAMAICA THIS PAST SUMMER. JOEL IS ON THE KEYBOARD. LISTEN TO HIM GO! HELP SEND THIS GUY TO PANAMA SO HE CAN DO THE SAME THING FOR LITTLE PANAMANIAN KIDS!!

The Faces of Jamaica

About 8 years ago, I took a vacation to Jamaica. After going back a second time for a mission trip, I am not sure I could ever vacation to Jamaica again. (Keep reading)

The tale of two Jamaica trips...

The last time I went to Jamaica, (we'll call that trip "Jamaica A") I stayed at one of the Sandals Resorts. I remember landing at the airport and getting onto the shuttle with a bunch of other tourists. The next couple hours we cruised down the coastline highway drinking Red Stripes and listening to Bob Marley. I remember looking out the window and seeing some of the impoverished Jamaican families living in shacks and run down old homes. At that time, I was about 9 years removed from the last mission trip I had gone on to Peru. In fact, I was about 9 years removed from living out my faith in any kind of meaningful way entirely. I was living for myself and whatever made me feel good at the moment. So when I saw the conditions and how much they resembled past mission trips I'd done, I just did what anyone on vacation would do. I said "wow look at them--that is sad" and then buried it deep down so I wouldn't have to deal with any feelings of guilt while I passed right by them on my way to the resort. Eventually we pulled up to Sandals and we came up to a massive gate. It slowly opened, we drove through and then the gate closed behind us. And the people in need that I saw were closed off behind me. I no longer had to "deal with them" causing me any guilt for all the fun I was going to have. I was free to just enjoy myself.

We spent a lot of time poolside, drinking unlimited mojitos and eating as much as we wanted. We got to do a zip line and some waterfalls too and sure those were cool. Then on the last day we sat on the resort's man-made beach watching and laughing as pasty white northerners would run into the water only to find out that the floor is made of sharp rocks and not sand. We'd laugh as one by one they'd go running in and then slowly (and painfully) walk back out shouting "ouch-ouch". Yeah it was funny, I'm not going to say that wasn't a memory from that trip I enjoyed. But....THAT was the highlight for us. Sitting on a fake beach drinking beer watching drunk tourists cut their feet. Eventually the trip came to an end, we got back on the bus, and came back home to Florida. Was it fun? Sure, it was fun. But 8 years later, it did absolutely nothing to change any lives. Now that trip just rings a bit hollow.

Now let me tell you a little bit about "Jamaica B."

Last week I went back to Jamaica but this time, it was a much different story. 21 people (including myself) went to Jamaica, and 21 people had their lives changed forever. Not one of us came back the same person we were before we left. Instead of watching drunk tourists running around a fake beach with mojitos in their hand, I watched the people on my team step out in BOLDNESS and love and care for the men, women and children of Jamaica with a passion! The very people I turned my back to 8 years ago. Far more rewarding than any vacation experience could ever offer. And on top of that, I witnessed first hand bravery like I have never seen before as people on my team pulled together and helped one another work through some of their deepest most painful struggles. Many late nights with a lot of tears. And it was absolutely BEAUTIFUL. I cannot even begin to put into words how incredibly PROUD I am of each and every one of them. On behalf of my AMAZING co-leader Jenn Heller, I just want to say to you all, Adrian, Arden, Aruna, Ben, Brenna, Caitlin, Carrie, Diana, Diane, Doug, Hailey, Kaylie, Leslee, Lori, Matt, Mike, Michelle, Ryan and Sharon......WE ARE SO PROUD OF YOU!! I am absolutely honored to call you my friends.

I'll let the images tell the rest of the story. We worked hard but we had a lot of fun too. Take a look at some of our shots from the Eleven22 Jamaica B mission team. And if anything in here tugs on your heart and you want to know more about what these kinds of trips are all about, just ask. The door is open any time. You just have to take that first step of faith and walk through it. coe22.com/missions

Want to see last year's trip to Panama? Ok. Go here: adamszarmack.com/panama

Prostitution vs. Religion

Let me start by saying, I apologize for the bizarre title to this blog post. But in a world now where you've got constant media feeds all competing for your attention at once, I needed to go a little bit, for lack of a better word, intriguing with the post name.

If you track along with me on here, you're probably aware that I have written many posts and shared various videos from my pastor at Eleven22. Every Sunday I walk out of that building and feel like I had just my life changed. I cannot say this enough, no matter who you are, where you've come from, regardless of your beliefs, background or past....GO and check out Eleven22. It is a movement AND invitation for ALL people. Repeat, ALL people. No one is excluded. Period. Just come as you are. Leave fancy "church clothes" at home because they don't care about stuff like that.

I could share every sermon they post but this past Sunday's message was one I found particularly important to pass on to others. You may have read a past post of mine that discussed the definition of what "religion" is vs. having a relationship with God. The difference between the two is of absolute utmost importance and should not be overlooked. As I mentioned, in my previous post, being a true Christian is actually the opposite of being "religious." (For reference, you can re-read the post here: Religion Sets Rules. Jesus Sets Free.) This weekend's sermon was a perfect supplement to that topic.

So about that post title...

In this sermon a very important parable is being taught by Jesus. Per the words from Jesus himself (while talking to a group of heavily devout religious people)...he basically told them that (paraphrasing) prostitutes and terrorists are more likely to make it into Heaven than the person who grows up in church being a "good rule follower." (AKA, religious) Why? Because as I mentioned in that older post, you may be surprised to hear this but according to the bible, getting into Heaven has absolutely NOTHING to do with how good/bad you are, how much you go/don't go to church or follow a bunch of rules. Repeat NOTHING. It is not about your activity but rather it is about your IDENTITY. That is why someone can be a Christian without being "religious." Because being a Christian really just means one thing--believing that when Jesus died on the cross it counted for YOU and by putting your faith and trust in him. When you do that, you get a new identity that is a 100% a free gift. And the thing about getting a gift is....gifts cannot be earned. Hence why, being "religious" will NOT earn you a ticket to Heaven. Identity always precedes activity.  Therefore, being a Christian is not about being "religious" rather it's about having a relationship. Big difference.

Please take the time to listen to this message by pastor Joby Martin who can articulate it much better than I can. It could be the best news you've ever heard. And if anything in this message intrigues you, PLEASE feel free to reach out to me and let's chat some more. And if you're someone who just thinks I'm totally weird and all this stuff is complete BS, believe me I don't blame you. It was weird to me once too. Call me anyway I'd love to buy you a coffee and share my whole story.

With utmost sincerity,
Adam Szarmack

Do You Need a Do Over?

About two years ago, I found myself in a place in my life where I was pretty broken and battling some feelings of depression. I kept it to myself and even my closest family had no idea I was feeling this way. I didn't want anyone to know.

During that time, at my place of work there was a spare office that no one was using and so I moved my computer into it without even asking for permission from my management. The reason I did that was because most of the time I was sitting in there fighting back tears. (And losing that battle more often than not.) Occasionally one of my peers would stick their head in and say "Hey what ya doing in here?" to which I would reply "Oh I think I'm getting sick so I'm just doing everyone a favor and separating myself from the group." But the truth was, I didn't want anyone to see me crying. And when it was time for a company meeting, I'd do my best to push all the tears in and put on my best fake smile--holding it as long as possible until I could get back to that office and be alone again.

I needed a Do Over.

And by the grace of God, he gave me one.

I tend to write too much so if anyone reads this and wants to know the rest of my story, please contact me and let's setup a time to chat more. I'd love to meet you and have a heart to heart.

And if you are currently in a place in life right now and YOU need a "Do Over" too, I've got good news...

Here is the Do Over you've been waiting for...

 Photo I shot of my pastor, Joby Martin, preaching his guts out at Eleven22 on Easter Sunday.

Photo I shot of my pastor, Joby Martin, preaching his guts out at Eleven22 on Easter Sunday.

You Love Me Through and Through (VIDEO)

In all honesty, this isn't a post I am necessarily eager to share. Everyone is their own worst critic and I don't even like hearing my self sing let alone watching myself sing. But in this last couple years I have been working towards pushing my musical talents further which is something I regrettably neglected for a while. I'm still finding my voice a little bit but slowly and surely I've been gaining some more range and control over it. It's nothing earth shattering compared to some singers out there, but it's mine and it's a talent God has given me and so I want to grow that gift and use it for His glory.

This is a very simple song written by Will Reagan and his band United Pursuit. Only 4 chords and basically two verses. But there is tremendous meaning behind these words that can touch your heart if you've got ears to hear.

The message? God loves you exactly AS you are and exactly WHERE you are. He loves us through all of our junk. Just like any good dad who loves his kids unconditionally. Don't ever let your past mistakes make you feel excluded from God's love. He knows about them and He knows the ones you'll make again in the future, and He loves you anyway. Through and through.

My hope is this blesses you.

Lehmann Family | Jacksonville Family Photographer

I've known Ed for over 20 years now. He's been a major part of my life and one of the many reasons I am where I am today. It started when he was one of my youth group leaders at a small church in Ponte Vedra when I was only 13 years old. Not only did he help to instill good and God honoring values into my life as a youth, but since I was still too young to drive he would give me and my friend Ryan rides to the Mayport Poles to go surfing AND he always paid for the parking. (Don't think I've forgotten about that Ed!)

Fast forward a little bit and when I was 18 years old Ed took me on a mission trip to Peru. It was there that I met Melanie for the first time. She was the co-leader for that trip and went on to become Ed's wife afterwards. So that is part of how this whole thing you're about to see below got started. :)

So the Lehmann's will always be near and dear to me. When I got the call to do some family portraits for them I was very excited. They have two beautiful (and energetic!) kiddos who are growing up WAY too fast. But that's ok because they made the photo shoot very NOT boring.

Ed currently works at The Church of Eleven22 (and was the one who got me connected with The DEMP Project from this post) but will venturing out later this year to answer a tremendous call on his life to start a new church as Lead Pastor. It will still be here in Jacksonville and knowing Ed the way I do, and his passion for God, it's going to be awesome!

Once a Stripper now a Survivor

PLEASE READ THIS. DON'T SEE THE LENGTH OF THE POST AND JUST SKIP TO THE VIDEO!

Late last summer I got a phone call from a friend of mine who works at Eleven22. He said there was a special group of women who were a start up non-profit and they were trying to find someone to help them out with a video to raise awareness for their cause. He asked if I'd be interested in helping out. Naturally I said "Sure, so what is their cause?" The response I received was something I was not prepared to hear at all.

The answer? They walk right into the Jacksonville strip clubs and tell the girls their true worth and value in the eyes of Jesus.

(I'll give you a moment to process that the same way I needed to when I first heard.)

Okay so let me just be real transparent for a moment. The first thing that crossed my mind after I heard that was oh crap that's too intense and I don't know if I want to help with that actually. I mean let's just be honest, who wants to talk about a subject like that? I didn't. It makes everyone feel uncomfortable. BUT the reality is the reason we don't like hearing about causes like this is because most people (myself included) just want to look away and pretend its not there. Oh strippers just choose that life for themselves or what's the big deal it's just harmless entertainment. The fact is, that couldn't be further from the truth.

Not long after that call I met with the girls at the St. Johns Town Center Panera and learned more about their individual stories and oh boy, they were INTENSE. Let's just say, anyone eating lunch there that day probably left telling their friends all about the group of people in the middle of the restaurant that just cried for over an hour. (And hey, I was one of the criers!) After I heard some of the absolutely horrid things that they had happen to them in the clubs and throughout the industry, I knew I had to help. It took us a while to get our schedules lined up but we were finally able to get together to film the testimony of the founder of the ministry. We then used her story for this PSA video.

Let me just say if you've got 6 minutes to spare then watching this video will be 6 minutes of your life well spent!

Please open up your heart and listen to this incredible story of survival and redemption. And if you wouldn't mind, share it with others to help get their message out. Facebook has enough Donald Trump rants, pictures of cats and grainy photos of people's lunches. Share something that actually matters and can help make a true difference! I dare you. :) Visit www.thedempproject.org to learn more.

Come To Jamaica With Me!

If you've been following along with me on here then you've probably seen my blog post about my mission trip this past summer to Panama with Eleven22. The trip was absolutely life-altering for me, my fellow team members and many of the locals in Panama. I could tell stories for days about the incredible things I experienced while on that trip and what it's done for my life since. It was hard, exhausting, sometimes terrifying and some of the MOST FUN I have ever had my life. To catch a glimpse of it, you can see my pictures from the trip by clicking here: The Faces of Panama.

After I got back I was approached by the Eleven22 leadership and asked if I would be willing to lead a future trip and I accepted the invite. The trip that they have asked me to lead is in August of this year and it will be to Jamaica. I am really excited about it (a little nervous too) but I know that God has big plans for me and whoever my future team will be. So this is my personal invitation to YOU, whoever you are that is reading this right now, I want YOU to go with me. And if you think I'm talking to someone else right now, I'm not. I am talking to you. Yes YOU! ;)

You can stay back, spend another summer trying to work on your tan that you’re just going to lose by September anyway, posting the perfect angled selfie to Instagram so everyone on social media will think your life looks more awesome than it really is. You could just play it safe and take the easy road. OR...you can do something hard. Something amazing, something that will change YOU forever AND will change the ETERNAL TRAJECTORY of someone right now who is sleeping on a mud floor in a third world country who you don’t even know exists yet. Just ask me or any of the 36 other people I went to Panama with. It's worth it.

In fact, one of my team members was a guy named Chad. If you're a big fan of a little TV show called The Amazing Race then you may have seen him on there as a past contestant. And when I asked him to compare the two experiences, this is what he said...

"Racing around the world for a million dollars was an unimaginable experience, but going out into the world On Mission for God's kingdom provides riches and joy that no amount of money or luxury can compare."

It just takes that first step of faith. 

To learn more about my trip or the other trips offered come to any of the three Eleven22 locations Monday night Feb 6th at 6:30pm for an info gathering. I will personally be speaking at the Mandarin campus and would love to meet you but the other two campuses have amazing speakers as well. Pick whichever one that works best for you!

www.coe22.com/missions/

Come with me.
Adam

*UPDATE, there is a second Info Night being held on Monday April 3rd. Please contact me for more info if you'd like to check it out. I will be speaking again and would love to meet you. So come on out!

*Update again - Eleven22 sermon from April 9th. GO ON A MISSION TRIP!

My Daughter's Awesome New Year's Resolution

I don't use Facebook or Instagram so this site is one of the few ways I share personal stuff about myself. This morning while I was making breakfast for my family my wife took this out of my daughter's backpack and read it to me. It immediately became one of the proudest moments in my 33 years of life.

This past summer I went on a mission trip to Panama with Eleven22. (See the trip here!) I have been on other trips like it before but that was a long time ago and before I had a parent's view of the world. In fact, the last trip I went on I was only 19 years old and had only just met the girl who would eventually become my wife. Fast forward to present day as a parent of two young kids, a trip like that took on an extra meaning. (PS, in August of 2017 I'm leading another mission trip to Jamaica, contact me if you're interested in going!)

When I was in Panama and got to spend time with some of the kids there and I got a massive gut check on just how much I spoil my own children even if I don't realize I'm doing it. I saw kids that were the same age as mine who had virtually no clothes, food or toys. Practically nothing. Some even living under plastic tarps for a "roof". (Here in America we would call it homeless.) And I won't pretend for a second that I have not also done this, but after a trip like that when you get back home and go to a restaurant and see the kids who can't sit still so the parents have to give them an iPhone or iPad to entertain them for 30 minutes, well it just feels REALLY weird. That's not really the point I am trying to get at in this post but, it's just true.

Anyway, after going through that experience I have been slowly teaching my 6 year old about the trip and why I went. With every passing month she continues to learn more in school and get smarter. For class yesterday she had a writing assignment to fill out a worksheet on her personal New Year's Resolution for 2017. This is that work sheet. I am one VERY proud dad!

"I would want to go to poor countries with my dad". I love her!!

By the way, in case it's hard to read...here are the others...

I want to learn how to - float in the pool on my back.
At home, I - want to learn how to fold laundry.
At school, I - I want to show how good we are if a new person is in our class.
I will make a difference by - to be brave if I'm scared.

Shane & Shane Have Changed My Life

About 15 years ago I was on a mission trip to Peru when I was first introduced to the music of Shane Barnard and Shane Everette. I don't always have the best memory but I can specifically remember hearing one of their songs and instantly being hooked. The combo of guitar style and vocals they were doing at the time were not like anything else I had heard anyone else do before. In fact, fast forward to present day and it's still the same thing. There just isn't anyone who sounds like they do. In my opinion, they are EASILY two of the most talented vocalists in human history and, IF they wanted to, could have gone for fame and fortune in the secular music industry and made it big. They are that gifted. BUT, they instead choose to remain simple and humble. They don't dress in rockstar clothing or go out partying. Most of their concerts take place in smaller venues. And as enormously talented as they are, when you see them live you never once feel like they are performing for their own fame or self glory. And at every show they usually ask the audience to stay seated. Who does that??

Anyway if you think a lot of Christian music sounds weird, well.....you're right. A lot of it does. BUT...I hope that you will give these guys a fair shot and listen to a few of these songs. And I also hope that their music will do as much for your life as it has for mine. I mean that whole heartedly.

- Adam

 Pic I shot of them singing at  Eleven22  this past September.

Pic I shot of them singing at Eleven22 this past September.