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‘I Still Believe,’ the must-see movie for Lent 2020

J-P Mauro - published on 03/09/20

Jeremy Camp's biopic is a tragic romance that will leave viewers full of hope.

The long-awaited biopic on the life of Christian music artist Jeremy Camp is scheduled to release this weekend, on March 13. The film centers around the real-life story of the adorable romance between Camp and his wife Melissa, who met in college and quickly became smitten with each other.

Produced by the Andrew and Jon Erwin, who are excited to present their first new project since their monumentally successful I Can Only Imagine, in 2018, I Still Believe is full of religious themes like hope, unconditional love, grief, doubt, and renewal of faith.

Jeremy and Melissa’s relationship, which grew slowly, was based on shared interests and a mutual faith. Melissa’s devoutness and good nature inspired Camp as he was beginning his journey to become one of the most prolific Christian musicians of this generation. It should be noted, however, that while it is the story of a musician, the music often takes a backseat as the plot mostly revolves around the budding romance.

Their love for one another was just blossoming, when Melissa was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Rather than break off the relationship, however, Camp proposed and he stayed by her side through every moment of her arduous illness. The film shows the hardships they endured as the two young lovers did their best to make the most out of every moment that they had left together.

Camp, played by Riverdale‘s KJ Apa, brought Melissa (Britt Robertson) everywhere he performed, and he would ask his audiences to pray over her every chance he got. There’s one point where Melissa seems like she might have beaten the illness, but while this brief time afforded them a chance to take their wedding vows, it was not to last. The illness eventually returned to claim Melissa’s life.

It was in the grips of grief that he’d never previously known that Camp went to his father, played by Gary Sinise, and asked him how God could let this happen. Camp’s faith lay in tatters, replaced by furious doubt, until he finds Melissa’s journals, which she never allowed him to read before.

Finally reading the journal, Camp was reminded of his deceased wife’s unique perspective on life, and it was revealed that even through the pain of the illness and the grueling rounds of treatment, Melissa’s faith was never swayed. She always trusted that her pain served a purpose and her words helped bring Camp back to himself. It was in her letter to him that Camp found the inspiration to write “I Still Believe,” which endures as one of his most popular songs.

It is so fitting that the movie is set to come out during the season of Lent, as it is a remarkably faithful story. Jeremy went through a sort of passion all his own as he willingly stood by Melissa’s side through one of the most harrowing situations two young people could go through. While the film will almost certainly bring viewers to tears, they are just as sure to leave the theater filled with hope and inspired by the real faiths of the people in this true story.

We had a chance to speak with Jeremy Camp about the movie, and he had some great things to say about it…

When the film begins, your father buys you a guitar and then, soon after, when you meet Jean-Luc you ask him how to “make it,” How long had you been writing songs before you went to school?

I’d been writing songs since I was about 14 years old. My dad always had a guitar lying around so I’d just pick it up and strum on it. I wrote my first song, called “Set Me Free.” It was kinda my cry to the Lord and I found my voice through writing.

I think my dad saw that I had a gift and wanted me to work on it. I didn’t know what it entailed I just knew that I was able to write my heart down through song. Going to college I started playing different places and I was like, “OK, God, I think you’re opening doors for me to play music.”

It was kinda an obvious thing, not a thing where I was pursuing or pushing, it was just Him opening the doors. So I think that’s the great thing about allowing the Lord to help. Let Him do it. Don’t push the doors open. I think that’s what, for me, was so encouraging because I realized that I’m walking in His steps and not my own.

The first time you see Melissa, in the movie, you were on stage under the bright lights. How was it that you were able to pick her out so clearly?

We actually met at Bible study, but you only have two hours to put together a whole segment on her life. But we did meet like that, where I saw her in the audience and her worshiping and I could tell she was in love with Jesus. So it was accurate, but it was in a little different setting.

One of the first songs you performed in the movie is “This Man,” a song that has some deeply reflective lyrics for a college freshman. How had you developed this poetic style?

Honestly I think it was just things I learned growing up with my parents. My dad was a pastor as well. I think the song is about things that I had really wrestled with. I was going through a hard time of understanding, why would Jesus do that?

I was thinking, “I don’t deserve it” and “Why would He die for me and for the whole world?” I’m kind of a thinker, so I went through this whole wrestle of “why,” because He did nothing wrong. Then it’s like, “Would I do that?” and “Would I pay this price for someone?” and I was like, “If I were He, would I have died for Him?” I guess you’re right, for someone so young to have these questions is a lot, but for me it was a moment of willingness to give yourself and the whole song is just asking, “Are you willing to surrender at all?”

Throughout Melissa’s illness, the movie showed you crowdsourcing prayers from every Christian community that you performed for. How did this show of support help you and Melissa through the ordeal?

It was huge. I would have people praying at concerts, have people praying at interviews. It was massive. That’s the best part of people coming together. It helped us to continue to walk through this trial.

When Melissa passed away it was so sudden and a bit jarring for the viewer. Did you find it hard to watch in the movie?

Yeah, absolutely.

She got to this point where she sat up and said, “I’m healed, I’m fine.” You start having those emotional moments that have very poignant accurate things that are said verbatim and then it hits you like you’re right there. Not everything, but the grief and the pain were huge.

So, yeah, it’s hard, but you see the redemption and the faithfulness in how we viewed this. Then you walk away [from the movie] feeling hope. There’s a point where you think you’re drowning in sorrow for a second. It was hard for me to watch and it still is.

To watch that scene and see that pain is not easy. I think that’s what people might not understand. Yes, of course I’m so excited to get this out there, because I want it to impact people’s lives. Not because it’s the story of my life, that wasn’t easy. It was the hardest part of my life that’s thrown out there.

I’m going to have questions asked constantly and have to deal with that, which I’m thankful for, because I want to be able to minister to people, but the fact is that it’s a weight of responsibility. I’m blown away, though, and thankful and I’m just hoping that it impacts many people, for Jesus.

After Melissa passed away your character expressed anger at God and asked your father why. How did you pull yourself out of this moment of doubt?

One thing I’ve learned about questions is that it’s OK to ask them. God’s OK with that. Think of Jesus on the cross asking “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” There wasn’t anything wrong with that, it was just a question: “What’s happening right now?”

Now, what we have to be careful for is not to go against God [in our questioning]. I think its OK to say to God, “I don’t understand this. This hurts.” He’s not afraid of those things. He’s big enough to take care of those things and sometimes you may see how God is using this or that. I think that being able to ask questions is important. You have to have that freedom, but don’t stay there.

What I always tell people is, “Don’t stay in those questions.” Jesus asked “Why have you forsaken me?” but he also goes, “Into your hands I commend my spirit,” basically that [He] surrenders. I think that’s where we always have to land, that I might not understand, but I trust Him.

That’s for me the whole song “I Still Believe” was “I don’t understand and I have questions, but I still believe in your faithfulness, I still believe in your Truth, I still believe in your Word. I still believe.” I think that’s where the road of questions meets the road of trust.

Some of our favorite parts of the movie was your interactions with your disabled brother Josh. How would you say your relationship with him shaped your music and faith?

Well, Josh, he has a simple faith and I think he just loves people. Growing up with him I constantly saw someone who’s got a disability and you begin to rely on your family and a lot for so many things. It’s a constant reminder of what I’ve got and everything. I think it’s definitely allowed me to see things differently, for sure.

What did you think of K.J. Apa’s and Britt Robertson’s portrayal of you and Melissa? Were you and Melissa always as adorable as they were?

Honestly, yeah.

It was an amazing depiction of our relationship and it was kind of shocking. It’s hard to play someone who’s passed and [Britt] really listened to the description. She watched everything she could and pictures and whatever she could do to find out and be accurate. For me it was brilliant. They did a great job and them together was kinda unreal. They did such a great job.

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