After having watched I Still Believe, the story of Melissa and Jeremy Camp’s courageous battle with cancer, I almost immediately reached for the phone to call my girlfriend. I hadn’t planned on calling her at that time, but after the whirlwind experience that was watching this moving, if sometimes painful film (the very embodiment of a tearjerker, really), I needed to get some air and process what I’d just experienced, in conversation with another human being.
Sure enough, Emily soon asked me for my verdict, and I explained to her how the film had really moved me to the point in which I’d even cried – a surprise to her, but even more so to myself! You see, I’d been a tad unfair to the filmmakers behind I Still Believe. Prior to even watching the film, I’d already written it off as being yet another preachy, cringey and incompetently made product of faith-based entertainment. I expected nothing of it, and yet it moved me to tears, blessed my day, and even prompted me to pray for Jeremy Camp, his family, and his ministry. Now, if such a film – albeit based on a true story – can do that, then surely, it’s of both artistic and spiritual merit?
Directed by brothers Andrew & Jon Erwin (leaders and co-founders of Kingdom Story Company), I Still Believe tells the true-life story of Christian musician Jeremy Camp’s rise to prominence, his romance with Melissa, and their shared determination to seek God’s face during times of great suffering and adversity. But whilst many other biopics and ‘based on a true story’ films might seek to deliver a straightforward account of a story, the filmmakers behind I Still Believe seem to have prioritised sharing the powerful testimony of Jeremy and Melissa, with a specific emphasis on the lessons that was God was trying to teach them both at that time – lessons which, whilst difficult, have inspired and encouraged many who find themselves looking heavenward, in desperate situations.
One such lesson is that suffering - no matter how great - doesn’t have to destroy or discount one’s faith in God – it can in fact refine it. From the outset, Melissa and Jeremy are both depicted as believers who read the Word, pray, and have a belief in God. They believe that God has a plan for their lives and has given them abilities to bless those around them. But as their love for one another blossoms and Jeremy’s music career takes off, Melissa is tragically diagnosed with cancer. They don’t understand why this is happening, or what will come of it, but the couple pray for healing and encourage others to do the same. Even in the uncertainty of where God is in all of this, the couple don’t abandon their faith – they run toward their Father in Heaven, no matter how hard it may be to do so. And as Melissa and Jeremy place their continued hope and trust in God, whilst praying for the eradication of the cancerous cells, we see the pair find peace amid turbulent times.
Such an inspiring response reminded me of Paul’s reaction to his own suffering, which is recorded in 2 Corinthians, when he begged the Lord to take away an issue he described as “the thorn in my flesh” (12:7). The Lord responded to him in verse 9, saying: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” Paul then realises that “the power of Christ can work through me” because he has given over the “hardships” to the One who strengthens us, which gives him the ability to stand firm and even “take pleasure in my weaknesses” (12:10). We witness such remarkable resilience in the lives of Melissa and Jeremy too, who – like Paul – choose to trust and obey and are subsequently sustained by the Lord’s strength. Even amidst times of further suffering, they both experience real joy in their relationship.
As their trust in God grows, Melissa and Jeremy soon make plans to marry. However, they soon receive a troubling diagnosis, which Melissa’s doctors recommend be met with immediate surgery. Reluctantly, the couple agree, and whilst awaiting the surgery, set to praying for full, restorative healing. To their amazement, God hears their prayer – Melissa is miraculously declared cancer-free on the day of her surgery. News soon spreads of the miracle, which leads to many giving thanks and praise to God. Six months later however, following their marriage ceremony and honeymoon, the couple discover that the cancer has not only returned, but is too aggressive to be operated on. Melissa and Jeremy are both crushed, but Jeremy begins to question his faith and where God is in their suffering. Though even in her weak state, Melissa encourages Jeremy to refer back to the song he wrote whilst on their honeymoon, named Walk By Faith. With a heavy heart, Jeremy sings it to Melissa at her bedside: “I will walk by faith, even when I cannot see. Because this broken road, prepares your will for me”.
Soon after, Melissa’s condition worsens, and she passes away. Beforehand though, she expresses to Jeremy that the pain “doesn’t hurt anymore”, she “can’t feel it”, and that she’s “okay”. It seems that in her final moments, Melissa was liberated from her pain as she looked toward Heaven, and her imminent, eternal reality spent with God. In fact, we later learn through a letter she wrote to Jeremy, that her spiritual posture throughout that time of suffering, seems to have been very much based on the teachings of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:18: “…we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” Her hope was never placed in the world, the healthcare system which treated her, or her husband. Melissa’s hope was placed solely in God and His plan of eternal salvation for both hers and Jeremy’s lives. And in so doing, Melissa pointed to a heavenly reality in which there will no longer be any suffering, sickness, or weeping. Both she and Jeremy experienced what it meant for God to use their pain for good, when their testimony of how God sustained them throughout times of great human difficulty, went out into the world and touched the lives of millions – thereby redeeming their pain (Romans 8:28).
Jesus teaches that we too can place our whole hope and trust in Him today – just as Melissa and Jeremy did – because no matter what happens to us today, we can experience His unique promise of hope for tomorrow. But how do we know this? Well, Jesus once told His followers in John 16:33 (NLT), “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world”. He was alluding to the fact that because of His coming sacrificial death on the Cross, Jesus was going to conquer the power that eternal death had over humanity, because of our sin. It’s faith in Him alone (the Way, the Truth and the Life) which will save us from eternal death, and bring us unequalled peace in the everyday: “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die” (John 11:26, NLT). To have the peace and hope in our hearts that Melissa had, we need but come to Jesus, ask Him to forgive us of our sins and be cleansed by Him. With Jesus by our side, He is truly enough.
Why not prayerfully invite a friend or family member who doesn’t yet know Jesus, to watch I Still Believe for themselves? Use the film’s themes to ask them what they thought of the film, if they spotted any links to Christianity and what they might think of the Gospel’s response to this subject.
If you feel able to, ask them what they think of Jeremy and Melissa’s decision to continue worshipping God amid times of uncertainty and great suffering. Do they believe that their pursuit of God is misplaced? Regardless of their answer, ask them why they believe that. Also, prompt them to consider the potential good that can come from even the most tragic situations, by pointing to the couple’s inspiring testimony – explain that Melissa and Jeremy remained close to God, and he remained close to them.
Take the opportunity to share the hope of the Gospel message with them, encouraging them in the knowledge that whilst sickness and suffering exists in this life, we can place our hope in the One who will be with us every step of our lives, and gives us eternal life in Heaven – a place where there is no sickness and suffering, only peace and joy. Invite them to explore Jesus for themselves, explaining that He can liberate them from the sickness of sin today, give them the gift of eternal life and friendship with Him, if they simply turn from their sin.
Prior to watching the film for yourself, however, take a moment to pray that God would speak to you through the show. If you feel comfortable, pray this prayer over all your future, film-watching experiences:
Dear Lord, as I watch this film, I ask that you would be present here with me. Highlight to me anything within it that is honourable, anything that can be used in conversation for your Kingdom purposes. Amen.
I Still Believe is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime Video (U.K.)