A Heart for Panama

If you've been following along with me here, you may be familiar with my 2016 mission trip to Panama with Eleven22. That trip was absolutely incredible and had an enormous impact on my life. Fast forward to 2018 and I was called back to Panama but this time as a trip leader. And once again......life changed.

Come along with me and take a look at The Church of Eleven22 Panama B 2018 Mission Trip!

Adam-Szarmack-Panama-Mission-Trip-Eleven22-215.jpg

Krislyn

So I really have to start with this before I get into anything else. Two trips now and it's official, the people of Panama have set up shop and now have a permanent address in my heart. Including one little girl in particular who, moving forward, will be a major part of my life. Her name is Krislyn. She is 7 years old and was clearly the reason I was meant to go back to Panama. Let's start with her, and then I'll take you through the rest of the trip.

So if you ever go on the Panama trip with Eleven22, you'll get to participate in the Manos De Fe Family Assistance Outreach. Manos De Fe translates, "Hands of Faith" and it is a Christian ministry based in Caisan, Panama founded in 2008 by Julie and Gary Proctor from Jacksonville, FL. (To keep things simple, I'll refer to Manos De Fe as the "Mission House" or "Mission Partner" from here on.) The program involves bringing things like food, soap, toothpaste and medical supplies to families in the area that are in pretty desperate need. The program helps to get them back on their feet and as families graduate out of the assistance program and become self-sufficient, they have the opportunity to transfer services to another local family.

When I went to Panama the first time in 2016, one of the first homes that I visited on the program was Krislyn's. (Although on that trip I never learned her name or went inside the home.) I remember seeing her for the first time as she curiously peeked her head out through the front door. Once she worked up a bit more courage, she stepped all the way out and I got this picture of her. We dropped off the food, said a prayer for the family and then left. I truly thought that was probably the last time I would ever see her again.

Of all the images I got during that trip, this one by far left the biggest impact on me. Probably due to the fact it was my first trip after becoming a parent myself and I have two daughters of my own. But it just stuck with me in a way I am not real sure I have words for. It's almost like it's been imprinted on my soul.

Adam-Szarmack.jpg

Fast forward to 2018 and my first opportunity to do the Family Assistance Outreach for this trip just so happen to be Krislyn's home again. Now keep in mind, I had absolutely nothing to do with which homes I'd go to and when. There were others on the team who had already started going to other homes in the area before I had my chance to go on one. And even when it was my turn, the Mission Partner is still the one who selects the different homes to go to each day. We just go wherever they tell us. So once again, I did not choose to make her home the first family I went to. It was chosen for me. And none of them would have known I had that strong memory of Krislyn from two years prior.

Now, I am not someone who believes in coincidences. In other words, I believe there is a God, and he has everything planned out ahead of time. So I don't believe it was an accident that almost two years apart (to the day) that the very FIRST child I see on the outreach is the same one that had left that big impact on me from before.

So as I walked up to the house once again, memories from the previous trip started flashing through my mind. As we approached the door, I started to think to myself "I wonder if that same little girl still lives here." We knocked on the door and kindly called out "Hola" and when the door opened up........there she was........two years older......and with a look just as striking as before.

 2018 trip.

Right away something just started working in my heart. After the rest of the team had moved on to another family's home, I stayed behind with one of the mission partners and a translator and we had a chance to go inside the house (something I did not have an opportunity to do on the past trip) and learn more about their family dynamic. When I stepped into the home and saw how incredibly small the living space was (about the same area as my kitchen) it was terribly sad. Krislyn, her three siblings and mother all share the space. The dad is not a part of her life and it's likely she has never even met him. Then we pulled back a dirty old bed sheet hanging on a wire to act as a curtain and I saw the bedrooms, if you can even call them that.

Then my heart pretty much broke in two.

It was at this moment that something in me started saying that I was being brought back to this girl for a reason and I needed to step in and help them more but wasn't quite sure how yet. Eventually we left the house to catch up with the team but the thought of sweet Krislyn stayed heavily on my mind the rest of the day. But once again, I was starting to wonder if that was the last time I'd see her for the rest of the trip, or quite possibly ever again. In fact, I began to heavily regret that I had not stopped to take a picture with her and I missed an opportunity. The thought was eating me up all night after that.

The next day, I had just returned with a small group from a morning outing and I was making my way back into the mission house for lunch. When I opened the front door, much to my surprise, there was little Krislyn standing right there looking at me in a pretty dress with a little bow in her hair. I can't even tell you the excitement that I experienced in my soul in that moment. I think I started saying to her (in english of course) Hey there you are! You're here! It's you! (Which she wouldn't have understood at all.) But I was just extremely excited. Of course, I had to stop and get a picture with her this time JUST in case.

(Notice the orange sticker on her dress. Keep reading.)

Adam-Szarmack-Krislyn.jpg

Quick rewind, when I went to Panama in 2016, there was a guy on the team with me named Paul Martinez. It was his first ever mission trip. In Paul's own words he will tell you "I did not even want to go." But thank goodness he did because like many others who finally work up the courage to try one of these trips, it changed his life. Paul is the President and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Northeast Florida. After he saw the conditions down there and being moved in his heart to act, he decided to turn the mission house into the local chapter of Boys and Girls Club for Panama! So not only does it help serve it's missionary purposes, but now during the week they house 57 local children each day to come after school to receive hot meals, homework support, English lessons, technology training and more. And when you live in a part of the world that has virtually nothing, that means this is a BIG deal to these kids. There are no movie theaters, theme parks or arcades around. In fact, most of these kids have no clue those things exist. So if you get to be a "Boys and Girls Club" kid, you are envied by all the other kids around town! There is simply no other opportunity that exists like this available to these children.

Ok so all that being said, slightly confused on how Krislyn could be there, I later found out that the mission house is fronting the money to allow some of the kids to come to the program after school but that little orange sticker on Krislyn's dress meant, she was one of the kids that needed a sponsor to pay for her membership otherwise eventually she'd be unable to keep attending. So after some thought, prayer, and sending the pictures of her room to my wife back in Jax, she gave me the go ahead and said "Let's sponsor her!" So by the end of the trip, I went back to Krislyn's home and had the rare privilege of telling the mother in person that I had decided to pick up her daughter's sponsorship. Some tears were exchanged along with some hugs. It was one of the most fulfilling and incredible experiences of my life. And I'll NEVER forget it.

So much more gratifying than a Carnival Cruise or Sandals Resort. Nothing wrong with doing those things, I like being on boats, I'm just saying.......it can't compare.

IMG_20180628_161431.jpg

So before I take you on the rest of the trip, here are just a few more images I captured of this sweet precious girl who now means so much to me. I would also like to point out that the next wedding I am hired to shoot, 100% of the cost will go towards Krislyn's sponsorship. So if you're reading this and know someone getting married, let them know about this unique opportunity to help! ALSO, her little brother still needs a sponsor as well. So if you're feeling any kind of tug on your heart, just visit www.manosdefe.org and click on DONATE to help him too! It is only $40/month to sponsor him. A few less cups of Starbucks and maybe eating at home once or twice a month and you've just massively increased this kid's chance of making a life for himself. And I can guarantee you that you would not trade the full feeling you'll get in your heart for that temporary feeling you'd have in your stomach even for one second.

Want to learn more about kids who need sponsors? Watch this short interview from the Principal of the Club.

Ok back to Krislyn...

Did you notice her shirt said "FOLLOW ME" on it? Again, I do NOT believe in coincidences. ;)

Ok, thank you for taking the time to read all of that. I hope it did something for you today. Now let's look at the rest of the trip.


The Ngobe

So one of the most intriguing parts of places like Panama is that there are still pockets of families that are practicing a cultural way of living that has its roots in the Ngobe (No-Bay) Indian tribe. I am not exactly sure how far the culture dates back but in present day Panama, it has unfortunately resulted in prejudice among some the local communities.

Ethnically speaking, there are not any differences that I am aware of between Ngobe Panamanians and the other Panamanians. Economically speaking however, it is quite clear that families who still practice Ngobe culture are considered to be "less than" or a lower class of people. The Ngobe hold tight to their cultural roots. Therefore very few of them are able to own land, have the appropriate government paperwork and are unable to attend school which puts them at a great social disadvantage. In some cases this has resulted in many families with children who live in homes with dirt floors, no electricity, and inadequate water supplies. And furthermore, this means many of the kids are malnourished and when they get sick they are unable to obtain simple medicines to treat their conditions. One family below even recently lost a baby due to these circumstances.

One of the Mission House's initiatives in Panama is to bridge the gap between the local people groups by showing love and respect for the Ngobe families regardless of their socioeconomic class. Efforts like this can take years to see changes happen in cultural behavior but I am happy to report that cracks in the barrier are starting to show and they are now seeing more and more Ngobe people interacting with the other locals and even some being hired for open jobs. This is a BIG deal. But the challange is still an up hill climb.

IMG_9957-X5.jpg

Julie's heart for the Ngobe showing up here as she begins to tear up and pray for this girl. Julie and her husband Gary founded the Mission House and are truly some of the most inspiring people I have ever met.


The Boys on the Hill

So this is not just some clever name I came up with for the section of the blog post. These kids have actually become known in the area as "The Boys on the Hill" because, you guessed it. They live on these steep hills.

The exact details escape me now but, the story goes something like, their family is extremely poor but has been picking up some farming jobs on the various hills in this part of the land but about every 9 months once the work is up for that project, they have to pack up and move to another hill. It just rips your heart out for these kids. True survivors.


The Panamanians

Here are some more families in the area who are struggling to make ends meet but with very little resources available to get the help they need. This first family below also had some particularly sad circumstances they were going through. The grandparents at this home were keeping their 4 year old granddaughter because her mom and dad did not want her. (They had left her behind for a party life in Panama City.) We brought them food and supplies and prayed for the best outcome for the child. The gratitude of the grandparents was shown to us when the grandfather went into his chili garden and picked us some fresh chili's. For a family with so little, this was a BIG gift from them!


95 Years Young

This man was born in 1923 making him 95 years old. And this is where he lives and sleeps. Sure makes me feel silly for ever complaining about the luxuries I own. Every day he slowly walks several miles from here down to the village area although I don't remember exactly why. But spoiler alert, it is very HOT in Panama and it rains every.....single....day. And not just a light drizzle. Torrential downpour. So when it starts raining, if he's not within several yards of cover, he gets soaked. Every day.

The most humbling thing I remember from meeting him was, although he lives in a house that is about the size of a small bathroom, and he has a significant amount of joint pain and health problems, when we asked him what he needed prayer for, he replied by saying he didn't want prayer for any of his own needs, and to simply pray and thank God for our visit to him. Pretty remarkable really. Don't let that scoot passed you too quickly.


Clase de Musica!

So one of the big plans for me personally on this trip was to get some of the kids exposed to playing musical instruments. Music has always been a big part of my life and I love to pass it on to others. Especially kids. On my last trip in 2016, I gave away a guitar to one local boy who later on went on to become an amazing musician and to this day sends me emails saying what an impact it has had on his life.

So we set out to do the same by teaching some guitar and keyboard to the little ones throughout the trip. My hope is that one day some of these kids will pass on the same to future generations as they remember the first time they held a guitar when some random white dude in a Star Wars t-shirt showed up one day and showed them how to hold a G chord.


Local Schools and Generosity of Others

So one of the other big plans we had for this trip was to bless the local schools with some much needed supplies. Once again, resources in these areas are very hard to come by. And one of my amazing co-leaders Jamey has a big heart for helping teachers and students. So we collected a bunch of school supplies back here in the U.S. and loaded them up in extra suitcases to give away in Panama. This is just one of the local schools we helped out. We started the day off with me totally butchering the song "Happy and You Know it" in Spanish (hey it got the kids laughing) and then later donated the supplies to the teachers. The response was awesome.

I need to do a special shout out for my AMAZING co-workers at St. John & Partners Advertising Agency for all of their support. Look at all of the stuff they sent me down to Panama with. (https://www.instagram.com/stjohnpartners/) These are just some of the faces of the kids you helped. Thank you for your generosity! You are quite literally the answer to these people's prayers!


Cerro Punto

Throughout the hard work and long days, we did find some time to break off and enjoy some sights. Including one town called Cuerro Punto that had different villages, shops and a steep hike up one of the mountains with an incredible view for the payoff. Not to mention 60 degree weather that felt amazing.

IMG_9879-X5.jpg

Cami finding an unexpected souviner. 


Co-Leaders and New Friends

My amazing co-leaders, David and Jamey Burns. Two people who now mean a whole lot to me! It was a privilege to serve along side you and lead this brave and bold team together! Thank you for being shoulders for me to lean on. I truly hope we get the opportunity to lead together again in the future. I am forever grateful for you two. Your hearts for Panama are as big as those mountains behind us. And I know you will both continue to do incredible things with your ministry in the years to come!!

Adam-Szarmack-Panama-Mission-Trip-Eleven22-216.jpg

James

To finish up, I thought it would be fitting to end on this. You may have noticed the older guy throughout the pictures with the cool safari looking hat. The one that looks kind of like Steve Spurrier (and actually kind of sounds like him too.) Two years ago was the first time I met James. I had no idea what was about to hit me. He is one of the most brave, courageous, humble and selfless people I have ever been around. I vividly remember the discussion we had one night when he gave me his back story. He was living in Texas working hard to make a good living. He was running his own business and things were going really well. As it grew and grew, he continued adding on more staff and hitting bigger and bigger sales numbers. He was quite literally living the American Dream. Business was going well. Really well.

Then one day something in him changed.

In his exact words to me that night he said "I couldn't get satisfaction from those things anymore." So he gave it all up, left the business behind and moved down to Costa Rica where he now resides. In the years since, he spends his time driving his pickup truck between Costa Rica and Panama getting to know all of the families in the assistance program. And he is the one who drives the different mission teams to each home and arranges the bags that have the various foods, soaps and medical supplies for each family. And he does it all for either no pay or virtually nothing. I've never seen anyone quite like him before.

Thank you James for your inspiration, devotion and your love for Jesus that has left me strangely jealous of the life you now live. I hope to be like you are when I am older.

IMG_20180624_153555.jpg

Hasta La Vista...Baby

If you actually read all of this, please tell me so I can A) personally thank you and B) buy you lunch. Trips like these mean A LOT to the people who go on them. So any time someone shows even a little bit of interest in hearing how they went, believe me, the person you ask about it will be THRILLED that you said something.

It can be challenging to go off to another country like this and spend a week in the trenches in some of the poorest conditions imaginable only to come back home to an American lifestyle that can suddenly seem very.....well, selfish.

At the time I am typing this, I am personally experiencing some of those feelings. Although I know in a couple weeks from now I may resort to my own selfish ways of thinking. So I cannot judge anyone. But if this trip has left any kind of impression on your heart, I STRONGLY encourage you to ask more questions about how you can be a part of one of them too. Just talk to anyone who's gone on a mission trip, specificially with Eleven22, and they will all tell you the same thing...... I wouldn't trade it for the world!

www.coe22.com/shorttermmissions

Adam-Szarmack-Panama-Mission-Trip-Eleven22-152.jpg

ADIOS AMIGOS!

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.