By Joshua Maloni
The story of Job has been shared over the years in myriad church and Sunday school sessions. For many, that’s all it is – a story. But for Jeremy Camp, a key question within the 42-chapter book became all too real when his 21-year-old wife died 21 years ago.
Would he trust God on his darkest day?
After Job lost his children in a tragic accident, his wife asked, “Why don’t you just curse God and die?”
Camp could’ve done just that – blame God for Melissa’s cancer, get mad, rip up his Bible and erase his pastor’s phone number.
But instead of running from God, Camp ran to him – just like Job did.
He wrote “I Still Believe,” and proclaimed, “I still believe in Your faithfulness/’Cause I still believe in Your truth/’Cause I still believe in Your holy word/Even when I don't see, I still believe.”
The song made Camp a star. More importantly, the message would provide strength and hope for millions around the world listening on the radio, or watching online or in concert. “I Still Believe” also spawned a book and an autobiographical movie.
Indeed, it’s even served as a reminder to Camp, whose past four years have been filled with extreme peaks and valleys.
Camp had remarried, become a father and one of Christian music’s biggest and brightest stars when, in 2018, the Erwin Brothers (producers of “I Can Only Imagine”) approached him about turning his life into a major motion picture. The exciting news was soon met with personal struggles, as Camp wrestled with feelings of mistrust, panic and fear.
Through prayer and reflection, Camp overcame those emotions. His journey was captured in material for a 2019 album, “The Story’s Not Over.”
The filmmakers, meanwhile, put together an all-star cast, with “Riverdale” star K.J. Apa in the lead role, and Britt Robertson (“Tomorrowland,” “The Space Between Us”) signed on to portray Melissa. Gary Sinise (“Forrest Gump,” “CSI:NY”) and Shania Twain were chosen to portray Camp’s parents.
“I Still Believe” was released March 13, 2020 – and nearly made back its production costs on opening weekend. The film was poised to be a smash … until movie theaters were shuttered due to the coronavirus.
Subsequently, Camp – like most musicians – was forced off the road and away from the public for months. While this was not ideal, the break did help him catch his breath – and it allowed Camp time to put together songs for a new album titled “When You Speak.”
At the end of June, Camp announced he was teaming with Premier Productions to expand his “I Still Believe Tour” into the fall. The 18-city trek would start in Western New York, with a Sept. 15 concert at The Chapel in Getzville.
Breakout Christian music star Katy Nichole (“In Jesus Name” [God of Possible]) will open.
Camp shared more in a recent interview. An edited Q&A follows.
Q: A common question and a common theme with musicians I've talked to you this year has been 2020-21-22 – the rollercoaster of everything that's been going on in the world, and with touring, and with the ability to go out and perform in front of people. But, really, your sort of whirlwind began in 2018, when you found out they were thinking about making this movie of your life.
Talk about highs and lows and ups and downs. I mean, obviously, it was very exciting when they told you that it was going to happen. But I know you had some challenges that came with that, which you were able to overcome. The movie comes out; and it's exciting, and it's fantastic. And then we go into COVID; and COVID’s terrible. But then you made some really good new music – and you've got a ton of new music now for people.
So, in light of all of that, how are you doing – like, as a human being – right now?
Jeremy Camp: (Laughs) First of all, I love that you just said that. And I love that you said, “How are you doing as a human being,” because that's such the perfect kind of term for it.
Honestly, it has been such a whirlwind. And I think that I've had so many pressing challenges that it really has deepened me in a lot of ways – like characterwise, and perseverance, and trust.
I thought I had trust issues in the past, it was like they got brought up massively during this past four years. And God has been dealing with me – just like, “Do you really trust me?” And really, it kind of also stems from, “Do you know much I love you? Because if you knew how much I loved you, you would trust me.” You know, it's like that very basic, “Christianity 101.”
And I think that, overall, I've come out on the other end just more resolved than ever before. What I mean by that is like, even when I'm on stage, there's this sense of just – how do I say this? I just feel that resolve when I'm on stage. Even when I'm sharing, when I'm playing, there's no angst. There's no, “I got to make sure that the crowd is doing this, or doing that,” at all. It's just, I know exactly what God's calling me to do. I know that he's called me to do it. And I know he's going to give me the ability to do it.
And I think that through all that, because I’ve pressed in the midst of all this, ups and downs, and hurts and pains, I think that there’s resolve. I get on stage, and I'm just like, “Cool”; or I'm so thankful. I’m more, I think, grateful, as well.
Like, I usually, legitimately, I'll stand on a stage pretty much every night now, and just tell the crowd, “Can I just wait for a second, and just be thankful, and just take this in?” Just because I want to make sure that I'm being thankful, and not just rushing through a concert and getting on the next one – especially on tours, because you’re night after night after night.
And so, that's been such a different change. There's just a peace and just a steadiness that I think has come from this. Because, when you weather the storm like that, you have to learn how to really rely on the anchor of Christ. And I feel like I really have been learning that. I've not figured it out. “Oh, I've got it now.” But learning that, and stepping into that more.
Q: If you think about the fact that we all have to weather storms, “I Still Believe” can be something that really buoys the spirits of people who listen to it – or now have read the book or seen the movie.
Before they came to you with the idea for the movie, you'd written the book and you’d been performing the song for 15 years at that point. Did you think, “This song has accomplished everything it can”? Have you been surprised with how the movie brought this to a different level, or to a different audience – or maybe it took it to a level you never expected?
Jeremy Camp: Yeah, there was definitely a point where I was like, “Cool.” It will always be a part of my testimony. I remember just even with the song, and then also the book, that kind of brought up things a little more. And then it was kind of like, “Cool. Thank you, God. It will always be a part of my testimony, but it's not like the main thing that I talk about or share.” You know, it comes up sometimes, and sometimes not.
And then all of a sudden, it came to this point where that was the highlight or the focal point of who I am, in a sense – like, that's what people kind of saw me as. And to a whole different degree.
When you see a movie, there's an emotional kind of connection that happens with something that's greater than anything else. You kind of feel like you're watching, and you're watching a story, and you're kind of along with the journey with that person. And so, for me, I think that, looking at that now, and seeing how just even the deepening of people understanding where these songs came from … when I play live, there's a different connection.
And honestly, yeah, like you said, the expanse that it had, as well. I mean, it was in 88 countries. I go to Romania recently, and England, and these people are like, “Your movie changed our life, and it was so encouraging.” Just those type of things in these different countries, you realize that God has used this, literally, greater than I ever would have expected.
And so, next year, we're going to be doing probably a global world tour. Because we just feel like God has opened the door for that. And so, it's an exciting season – but it's a lot. Definitely a lot. You know? (Laughs) I have to pace myself, and I have to really go, “God, do you want me to do this, or is it something I'm just doing because it seems like it's a good thing to do?”
Q: Yeah, that's interesting, too, because one of the things you were concerned about when we spoke last time was burnout. Do you feel like you have found a good rhythm and pace to juggle all of these things?
Jeremy Camp: Absolutely. I'm not saying I don't have to continue to juggle it. But I think that there's just warning signs, and I realize that now I see. Like, “Oh, OK, yeah, I need to watch that here. I need to take time off.” Where like, “Hey, you want to add 10 more shows to your tour?” “No. I don't,” because I think that's just going to throw me over the edge (laughs).
And so, I think, absolutely. And that's just a learning process. I've been doing this for, you know, 20 years, as a signed artist, and have been touring constantly since then. And I think you have to learn to pace yourself. Because you will burn out.
And I feel like I'm so thankful because, honestly, I kind of wonder like, “Well, maybe I would have, if COVID didn't happen; and this movie came out and it did what it was supposed to do.” I just would’ve went crazy, and all of a sudden had this burnout moment. I would’ve been like, “I'm done.”
I don't know. You have to always go, “God, you know what you're doing.” And I know he's used it in a deep way still. But I feel like I’ve found a good pace, for sure.
Q: You said you are resolved. And I guess you are – if I would put a word in your mouth – if I can take the liberty – content on stage right now.
Jeremy Camp: There you go.
Q: But certainly, this is a part of your life that, of course, was super-challenging. I know, for me, I lost my father two months ago and, if I had been in your shoes – to lose somebody like you did – I don't know that I would have had the resolve, or the courage, or the determination to get back up on the horse and keep doing what you’re doing.
When you look back on that moment now, how were you able to do that? How were you able to push through and to be in the place where, 20 years later, you can be content, and you can be comfortable sharing these things with an audience?
Jeremy Camp: Yeah, first of all, I'm sorry to hear that, bro. That really kind of just breaks my heart.
You know, I tell people this – and I'm trying to articulate this in a good way. But I always say, I just was serving Jesus, trying to spend time with him, and going through this tragedy. And I feel like he just was patient with me, and that he gave me the ability and the strength to endure it.
And so, what I mean by that, is that I don't feel like I did anything special, where I was like, “I'm this great man of faith; I’m this great man of resolve.”
I tell people a lot – and I know not everybody has an experience – but I do say, like, “Listen, I believe that God will give you the ability to walk through the hardest of things.”
It is sometimes how you respond to that, and accept that, or not. And, you know, I think there's a point when I allowed myself to be very vulnerable and ask God “Why?” and had the questions.
And I always go back to this – and this is kind of a really deep, not theological thing – but, you know, when Jesus was on the cross, he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And I think that we kind of don't think about what he's saying there. Because, for one, we know that Jesus never sinned. So, questioning, in a sense, God; asking the Father, “Why?” Like, “What’s happening? Why is this happening?”
I think that that's where we as believers, sometimes, we forget that it's OK to ask “Why?” It's what we do with that “why.” And so, what I mean by that is Jesus, what he did is he resolved it by saying, “But, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Basically saying that I surrender.
And so, for me, it's like, “God, why?” And anger and confusion. Now the anger part, that wasn't Jesus, but for me, the anger, the confusion, all these different things and emotions that came with it. I finally just had to say, “OK. OK, God; I trust you. And I still believe. I’m sad, but I still believe.”
Q: It makes a lot of sense. And I give you a lot of credit for still sharing this message and helping people deal with that the way you just explained it. I think you're one of the most selfless entertainers, certainly, that I've had the good fortune of speaking with.
Jeremy Camp: Thanks, man; that means a lot to me. Thank you.
Q: All of the good that this song has done, notwithstanding – and everything that it will continue to do – it probably wasn't a big ego bruise to have a teen heartthrob play you in a movie, right?
Jeremy Camp: (Laughs) No, it wasn't, for sure. That was quite incredible that they picked K.J., and he actually chose to do it. And we became friends because of it, as well. And then Britt Robertson, we became friends with her. She comes to shows. And her parents come; her mom will come to shows; her sister.
I mean, having Shania Twain play my mom, and Lt. Dan play my dad, it's just all kind of surreal.
Surreal is the word.
Q: Clearly, what we saw the movie is that you just come from a family of very attractive people. I mean, that's just all there is to it, you know? I don’t know what else to say.
Jeremy Camp: (Laughs) That’s so good.
Q: OK. So, you have 41 – 41 – No. 1 singles. Presumably, the show in Buffalo is going to be 18 hours long, right?
Jeremy Camp: Nope! We're going to have to pick. An hour-and-a-half, an hour-and-45-minutes is our set. It’s still a good chunk. But we kind of do some medley sometimes, and we'll pull back some old songs to do an acoustic medley.
We try to pull as many as we can, for sure.
•Catch Jeremy Camp and the “I Still Believe Tour” at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15, at The Chapel, 500 Crosspoint Parkway, Getzville. For tickets or additional details, call 855-484-1991 or visit www.platformtickets.com.
Jeremy Camp is online at www.jeremycamp.com.
Jeremy Camp returns to the Buffalo area on Sept. 15. (Photos courtesy of Premier Production/EPIC Agency/CMA Media Promotions)