Candy Christmas' Bridge to New Life

By Jenny Bennett | managing editor, www.watchgmctv.com
Posted: Fri, 10/22/2010 - 22:33

By Deborah Evans Price, senior editor, gmclife.com

Sitting in a restaurant just south of Nashville eating a healthy lunch of grilled chicken and veggies, Candy Christmas doesn’t look much different than the fresh-faced teen who grew up singing southern gospel music with her family, The Hemphills. However, Candy will be the first to admit that girl doesn’t exist anymore.
   
“She died,” Candy says matter-of-factly. “She’s been through a transformation. You’re never going to give anything that you don’t have. God had to do a work of grace in me – change me – before I could ever help anybody else. That girl was full of herself, full of ambition and had stars in her eyes, and along the way the Lord had to let that girl die. John the Baptist said ‘I must decrease and he must increase.’ We’re all on a journey of decreasing so that Christ can be real in us. I’m still on a journey. Am I there yet? No, but that girl had to be changed.”
   
Candy’s journey is reflected in On the Other Side, her first CD of new music in seven years, and in her new book, “On the Other Side: Life Changing Stories from Under the Bridge.” Just a few years ago, Candy was so depressed she couldn’t function, but she overcame her inner turmoil and focused on helping others with the launch of The Bridge Ministry, a Nashville-based organization that aids the homeless.
 
“I read this article that said ‘depression is anger turned inward’ and I’m not sure if that’s true for every depressed person, but I think it was for me,” she says candidly. “One of the downfalls of my whole [music] ministry is you never see the fruit of your labor. If your music touches a life or they see you on a Gaither video and your song has impacted them, you never know it because you get on a bus, and you are somewhere else the next day.
   
“I thank God for mobile ministry. Most of my life has been mobile, but I came to a place in my life that I felt like I had not achieved enough. I was seeing no fruit. My life had been fruitless and wasted and so then I became self-absorbed. My weight plummeted. I lost down to about 100 lbs. and there was such a darkness that came over my mind. If you’ve ever suffered depression, once your mind starts going that direction, you get stuck in this darkness. Unless you’ve been there, you won’t be able to understand it. I wound up lying in a dark room day after day, week after week.”
 
When she finally dragged herself out to visit a friend, she met someone who issued an invitation that would change her life.

“I met this old minister who was laying tile in a friend’s house, and I think he could tell I was in a pretty depressed state,” she recalls. “He said, ‘Hey, I feed homeless people under a bridge’ and at this time he was just roasting hot dogs for a few homeless guys and he said, ‘Can you cook?’ I think he was pretty sure I couldn’t cook, but I was raised in Louisiana and I can make jambalaya. He said, ‘Why don’t you make a pot of jambalaya and meet me under the Jefferson Street Bridge the next week?’ So I did.”

To learn more, visit candychristmas.com or bridgeministry.org.

~

Though she went to the bridge looking to help those less fortunate, Candy soon realized she was the one being blessed. “I’d see these homeless people. Some had bleeding feet because they had no shoes; a couple had no coats. It was so cold but they were very warm and friendly to me, very appreciative, and all of a sudden there was just this feeling, this thing that came alive in me that said, ‘I’ve found purpose!’”
   
From then on Candy was on a mission to help as many people as she could as much as she could. “

All through the week I was going to Dollar General and buying socks and underwear, toothbrushes and toothpaste. I was going to Wal-Mart and buying gloves and the next Tuesday night I brought my jambalaya and then more stuff,” she recalls. “When I first went down there I was not building a ministry. I wanted to do something tangible, to do it in a tangible way rather than just to write a check to some organization. I wanted to really get involved and make a difference in people’s lives. The ministry part just came. It evolved. People were saying, ‘hey I can’t come down, but I could give you money. Would you take this with you?’”
   
Soon, out of necessity, Candy filed an application to launch a nonprofit, and the Bridge Ministry was born in 2004. Things quickly grew from Candy purchasing clothing and toiletries at her local Wal-Mart, to individuals and companies donating large quantities of supplies. She started storing supplies in her garage and then moved to a small warehouse. Today the Bridge Ministry has a 20,000-square-foot warehouse in Nashville that not only stores food for the Tuesday evening services, but operates as a food bank for other area ministries. Additionally, the ministry also fills needy children’s backpacks with food on Fridays so they have something to eat during the weekend. The ministry is also responsible for an orphanage in Haiti called The Candy House.
   
Candy’s buoyant new lease on life spurred her creative juices and On the Other Side is an engaging collection that showcases her beautiful, soulful voice at its best. The title track is especially poignant to Candy as it was written by her daughter Jasmine. “I was driving in the car and I called mom and I said, ‘what do you think about this song?’ I sang it to her and she thought it was great,” Jasmine relates. “She said, ‘that’s my song! That’s my story’ because she’s on the other side of so many things.”
   
Seated next to each other at lunch, it’s obvious the mother/daughter duo share not only good looks and musical talent, but a vibrant passion for helping others. And they’ve seen God bless their efforts. Jasmine relates a story about how they were afraid of running out of food one night under the bridge.

To learn more, visit candychristmas.com or bridgeministry.org.

~

“One particular Tuesday we cooked what we thought would be sufficient. We’ve never run out of food, but this night we came very close,” Jasmine says. “We were not even halfway through the line and we were already scraping the bottom of the pots. So we gathered around mom and said ‘What are we going to do? We'll have a riot. People came to eat,’ and she said, ‘If God can multiply food in the Bible all those times, then why can’t He tonight?’ and I’m thinking ‘God doesn’t do that anymore. I’ve never seen God do that. I’ve heard about it in the Bible’ and she said ‘no, you watch. God’s going to do it!’ So she just prayed a simple prayer and I’ll tell you we had food left over that night. It was nothing short of a miracle!”
   
“They just didn’t get their one plate, they came back for seconds,” Candy adds with a big smile. “The more we dipped out, the more there was. The Lord loves the poor.”
   
Candy has taught others to pray and wait expectantly for God to move. She shares the story of a homeless man named Steven who needed a new pair of boots.

“One day Steven and his girlfriend were walking down to Titans Stadium to go panhandling. There were holes in his shoes,” explains Candy. “He was complaining to his girlfriend that his feet were getting sores on them. She put her finger up in his face and she said, ‘you know Miss Candy said you’re supposed to pray and ask God and God will answer you, so do that!’ So he just stopped, looked up to the sky and said ‘Lord, I need a pair of boots. I wear a 10 ½ and Miss Candy said if I ask you for it, you’ll get it for me.’ As they were heading back to their camp along the river, they came upon a pair of boots on the side of the road, brand-new, $150 work boots. Anybody want to guess what size they were? He wore them to the bridge the following Tuesday and he told that story. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
   
Candy and her family have seen miracles and seen lives changed, including her own. “The bottom line is that the homeless people have done a lot more for me than I could ever do for them,” she says. “My doctor wanted to hospitalize me and medicate me and if people are depressed and need medication, I understand that, but for me, I felt like if God was challenging me to find my way out, to find a route and to follow Him out of this depression. God used homeless people and these people are some of the greatest friends that I’ve ever known. It’s a real gift from God...If I had a forecast of my life 20 years ago, this is not what I would have [written] because I couldn’t have imagined it this good.”

To learn more, visit candychristmas.com or bridgeministry.org.

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About the Writer

Deborah Evans Price has covered Christian/Gospel music for Billboard magazine since 1994. She also contributes regularly to Country Weekly, CMA Close Up, Devo’Zine, Christian Single, HomeLife, BMI Music World, and other publications.

A Nashville resident since 1983, Deborah has held editorial posts at Radio & Records, Country News, American Songwriter and Billboard. Amy Grant, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels, 3 Doors Down, Third Day, Don Henley, Bon Jovi, Chris Rice, Sandra Bullock, Mercy Me, Alan Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Steven Curtis Chapman are among her many interviews. Additionally, she's a sought-after music industry analyst who has been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, TNN, The Today Show, and ABC PrimeTime Live, among other outlets.

Deborah is a member of the Gospel Music Association's board of directors and a graduate of Leadership Music. She resides south of Nashville with her husband, Gary, and son Trey. 



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