They say the best songs come from personal experience and newcomer Jeremy Camp’s music certainly comes from a very personal place. A unique brand of rock and progressive pop, his music was born out of a heart that’s been broken and a faith that’s been tested. Yet, despite all this 24-year-old has walked through—or maybe because of it—he’s compelled to praise the God who has proven Himself faithful through it all and has a passion for telling others about Him through music.
Camp’s journey began when he left his home in Lafayette, Indiana, bound for Bible college in Southern California. He wasn’t sure what God had planned for him, but he knew he wanted to be ready. As he soaked up all the biblical knowledge he could and pondered a career in ministry, Jeremy filled his downtime strumming a guitar, a skill he picked up from his musically inclined father. One day, as he was playing in the dorm kitchen, the school’s worship leader overheard him and encouraged him to get involved in the music ministry opportunities available on campus.
It wasn’t long before Camp was leading worship at the school and all over Southern California. One of those gigs would even lead him to his future wife and a relationship that would shape him in ways he couldn’t imagine. He was playing for a small Bible study group in the San Diego area where he was living when he noticed her. “I started to play a worship song and she raised her hands high above her head to praise God,” Jeremy recalls. “I was in awe of this woman who obviously loved Jesus so much.” They talked afterward and Jeremy and Melissa spent that summer getting to know each other better through church events, prayer meetings and college group activities. So it came as quite a shock when, after four months of dating, Melissa suggested they break up. Camp couldn’t find fault with her reason, though. She said she needed to spend more time with the Lord, that she felt He was preparing her for something.
Jeremy nursed his broken heart on the road, traveling around the country and overseas, introducing his original songs to anyone who would listen. Inspired by artists such as Dave Matthews, Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox Twenty, Pearl Jam and Creed, his music made a connection with audiences as his lyrics pointed them to the God Jeremy faithfully served.
While his personal life wasn’t going exactly the way he had hoped, his ministry was thriving.
And then Jeremy received a call that would change his life forever. He was summoned to the hospital to see Melissa, then 20, who had just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“I walked into the hospital and she was just beaming,” Jeremy recalls. “You could tell she wasn’t bummed out. She was just trusting the Lord. It was amazing.” During that same visit, Melissa shared a unique perspective with Jeremy. She told him if she ended up dying from her disease that as long as her death led one person to Christ that it would all be worth it.
Despite her upbeat attitude, Jeremy left the hospital confused and upset at seeing someone he cared about in pain. Once in his car he found himself making a strange promise. “I drove away saying, ‘God if You want me to marry Melissa, knowing she could die from this cancer, then I will. If she tells me she loves me, I’ll marry her.’” It seemed like a fairly safe bet. They had never spoken those words to each while they were dating, why would she say them now?
But during his next visit she did just that so Jeremy went away and fasted and prayed. The next time he saw Melissa, she was going through chemotherapy and was days away from losing all her hair. As they talked, Jeremy knew what he wanted to do. “I told her I loved her and said, ‘let’s get a ring tomorrow.’”
Five months later, with Melissa’s hair growing back and her feeling better, the young couple married in front of a thousand well wishers. Unfortunately, their happiness was short lived. During their honeymoon, Melissa started having stomach problems and when they returned the doctor delivered the news they dreaded. She had mere months to live. On Feb. 5, 2001, Melissa went to be with the Lord. As she took her last breath, Jeremy stood with her family and began worshipping God singing the same songs they had played so often for Melissa during her hospital stays. “I didn’t want to do it,” he says, “but I knew I was learning something about obedience.”
Melissa’s life and death changed Jeremy’s perspective on the music he makes. “Watching Melissa go to Heaven made me realize what’s important. Music is not my life. Christ is my life. The only thing that really matters is what we do for Jesus on this Earth, and as a result of what I’ve been through, I express even more the goodness of God and how faithful He is.”
One of those songs that reflects that perspective is “I Still Believe,” the first song Camp wrote after Melissa’s death, a declaration of faith from one who has walked through the fire. Also included on his BEC debut is “Walk by Faith,” a tune he composed on their honeymoon. Looking back now, Camp feels God knew he’d need that musical reminder in the months to follow. “I didn’t know what the song was for at the time, but I look at the words now and I can see God was preparing me for the path I’m now walking.”
Jeremy’s the first to admit it hasn’t been easy road. “It’s not like you just bounce back,” he says. “But God gives me the strength and I want to encourage others who are struggling.” And there’s another motivation. Jeremy knows with each song that he sings, he’s helping that wish Melissa made that day from her hospital bed, for her death to impact others for Christ, to come true.