Erica-Sommer Dudley: A Joyful, Fruitful Surrender
Testimony by Erica-Sommer Dudley and Emily Capps
The following is the testimony of Erica-Sommer Dudley, administrator at Calvary Chapel Miami Beach, FL.
Is this it? Is this really what this life is to be? Erica-Sommer Dudley cried out to God 10 years ago.
Outwardly, she’d enjoyed a successful career in the hotel, music, and recording industries. Behind the scenes, though, she confessed, “My lifestyle was destroying me.” Severe illness, deep depression, and abandonment by friends had debilitated her, and she realized she’d hit rock-bottom. Looking back, Erica knows that God was pursuing her through these dark times.
Erica’s first time volunteering for a “Love On Your Church Day” in 2014. Erica struggled with social anxiety for months and tried hiding in the background but her soul needed to be seen.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” Ephesians 2:4-5
During that time, Erica found Calvary Chapel Miami Beach, FL, after her visiting mother asked that they go to church. “I was annoyed at first. Then I was stumped because I didn’t even know where to find a church. Walking home from dinner, my mother pointed out this pink building, one I passed on foot every single day on the way to work. It was a church.”
She found herself fascinated by the service. “It was very different from any church I had been to in my youth. The pastor was super transparent and even talked about his own personal testimony where he encountered God after a night of indulging in Jack Daniels. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing or seeing. God had my attention.”
Erica now testifies that while she was in her late thirties, God led her through seasons of darkness and searching into a joyful, faith-filled life in His love. “He truly holds everything in the palm of His Hand,” she exclaimed joyfully, “and yet He intimately knows and cares about every minute detail of His creation, including me! As I approach 43, I am more excited than ever about living life in, through, and for Christ!”
Erica Sommer leads worship on a Sunday at Calvary Chapel Miami Beach (CCMB).
Erica was born in Atlanta, GA. After her parents divorced when she was three, she lived with her mother in Georgia and spent summers and holidays with her father in Alabama. Her mother had a difficult childhood, Erica explained, but “she was determined to give me something better, despite much trial and error. She always believed in Jesus, and I was raised in an African-American Methodist Episcopal Church.”
Erica has been singing since she was four. “Songwriting became my hiding place and personal diary around the age of 10,” she recalled. During the summers, she attended a Baptist church in Alabama, which was a “safe place” from the emotional trauma caused by her stepmother.
“Unfortunately,” she admitted, “neither church gave me any biblical foundation, no true anchor to Christ.” After Erica graduated from her performing arts high school and vocal conservatory, she left her home state to pursue a degree in music business at the University of Miami, FL. “Sadly, when I left Georgia and Alabama,” she added, “I also left the church, and my morals began to fall away.”
Erica plays piano and sings in her beginning stages on the worship team.
Rising in the World, Falling Apart Inside
Throughout college and after, Erica worked for the record industry during the day, while recording music and attending gigs at night. “I was doing well by worldly standards,” she said.
When she turned 23, her parents remarried. Then tragedy struck. Her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and 11 months later—as Erica found herself in the wake of other tragic losses and an emotionally abusive relationship—her father passed away. She recounted, “This sent me into a 10-year spiral of grief, depression, anxiety, and destruction.” Erica stopped working for the music industry, started promo modeling and bartending, and began “a whole new sinister lifestyle in the midst of South Beach, FL, the East Coast ‘Sin City.’”
Erica shared that she turned to “numbing each painful devastation and traumatic memory with alcohol, promiscuity, lawlessness, and an onslaught of toxic relationships.” She appeared to be responsible and self-sufficient as she worked as a mixologist in luxury hotels, toured with her band, and interacted with record label executives. However, her behind-the-scenes lifestyle was destroying her.
Pastor Robert and Erica pose at the annual CCMC Fall Fiesta to offer Christ-centered festivities as community outreach to counter the Halloween culture.
A Series of Wake-Up Calls
“Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice! Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.” Psalm 27:7
“In 2010, God began pursuing me through the first of a few significant, intense wake-up calls,” Erica said. First, she discovered she had typhoid fever. She was quarantined and, except for her boyfriend, found herself alone facing “questions about [her] livelihood and mortality.” When she eventually returned to work, she found herself abandoned by many of her “fair-weather friends.” Erica also chose to dissolve her band because “the dysfunction and chaos that accompanied it was too much.”
Two years later, she found success working as a mixologist at “one of the hottest luxury spots on South Beach and in the nation,” but this ended when she was diagnosed with cubital tunnel syndrome, an elbow and hand problem, and was fired from her job.
Pastor Rick Tuttle, who has led worship for 23 years at CCMB, prays for Erica before the congregation and acknowledges Erica’s increased role in leadership.
“Depression really took hold of me,” she recollected. “My circle of remaining friends dwindled down to a couple, and my outlook on life was super bleak. From the typhoid through this period, I began to cry out to God.” Upon recovering, she remembered, “I went into survival mode. No more games and partying. I had financially, socially, and emotionally hit rock-bottom. After months of juggling four jobs, I was exhausted, never having a day off, just fighting to pay rent and buy groceries. I had no time to seek mischief—it was ‘do’ or ‘die.’”
At this point, she found Calvary Chapel Miami Beach. “Week after week, with great curiosity, I continued to go to this church. God very gently wooed me during these months to gain my trust. Calvary Chapel Miami Beach became my home church under Pastor Robert Fountain, the founder and lead pastor.”
Erica leads worship with Pastor Robert Fountain.
A Season of Surrender
God then led Erica into “a season of surrender,” when she accepted Jesus as her Savior, learned how to walk with God, read the Bible, and step out in faith in new ways. She committed to give back to God from “the provision that He blessed [her] with in the first place.” Then God even blessed her with a job at a hotel group on Miami Beach, enabling her to stop working four jobs. But God was doing even greater things, she declared; “He led me into a season of ‘Be still, and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10a).”
Tragically, during this time she also lost a very close friend. Although devastated, after two days she “immediately made a U-turn to the church,” where a church sister and the pastor and his wife “consoled me, prayed with me, and met me in my distress. And in that moment, the Holy Spirit moved in. I felt this supernatural warmth that immersed me in godly love. That was a very hard season, but God gave me the strength, friends, and family that I never knew I needed to help me. He is so faithful.”
Pastor Robert Fountain leads worship with Erica.
Saying ‘Yes’ to New Callings
While in her new job, Erica discovered, “I was realizing that this could not be my life‘s calling, and I began crying out to God and praying that He would show me something different.” She also started using her musical talents in the worship team. “I had always wanted … to help and inspire others and reach that one lonely person in the room through my music. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that would be through a life of ministry—but God knew!” She now serves on the church staff as the worship coordinator.
In 2015, she lost another friend, but this time, she remarked, “I was going through grief with God, and my walk was becoming less wobbly. This became my year of ‘YES.’” Erica was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean and joined her first mission trip.
Erica takes a bold proclamation of her faith and overcoming fear of the ocean by being baptized by Pastor Alex Piagetti (Sent to Brazil from CCMB to plant a church in Forteleza) and Pastor Robert Fountain.
Then she was shocked when Pastor Robert asked her in 2016 to pray about also becoming the church’s administrator. Laughing, she asked him, “You do remember who I am, right?” But Erica also observed, “I was no longer the ‘hot mess’ that I used to be. Obviously, I’m still a work in progress, but God took over when I decided to surrender.” She accepted the job, which has continued to be “an exhilarating experience.”
Robert recognized Erica’s skills and experience, as well as her song-writing and musical talent. “But much more than that, God made it clear that He was giving us a true daughter in the faith. My biological children often joke that she’s more like me than either of them. Robert reminisced, “I too, grew up in Georgia, but in the very “white” Georgia of the 60s and 70s, where everyone around me was racist. As a very young believer, God broke my heart over that wickedness in my old life, and [now] He gave to my family the most incredible redemption story when He imparted His supernatural Koinonia to Erica and us. She is a second daughter.”
Erica works alongside Elisabet Fountain, Pastor Robert’s wife, supporting the church’s Oasis Women’s Bible study and discipleship ministry. She considers Elisabet her “best friend and spiritual mother and mentor.”
Erica and Elisabet Fountain smile for the camera. (Elisabet is wife to Pastor Robert & director of women’s ministries, and has been a mentor and spiritual mother to Erica.
Used by God for His Glory
Erica believes that God has used her past experiences to minister to people in similar situations, including grief, loss, toxic relationships, and broken homes.
“I used to always say that my life didn’t make sense, having been through so many different careers, losses, relationships, and experiences that constantly seemed to lead to a dead end. But in hindsight, I can honestly attest that God truly turns all things for His good purposes, even when they were meant for evil. Every single experience has been relevant to my surrendered life as a bond servant to Jesus. He truly uses it all,” she confirmed.
Erica also loves mentoring fellow musicians in worship and in building a deeper relationship with Christ. She has a special love for encouraging people to “get deeper into reading the Word of God for themselves. Scripture is the key to changing our minds, our hearts, and therefore our attitudes and [instilling] obedience to walk as light-bearers of Christ through this ever-darkening world,” she emphasized.
Erica stands on the beach in front of a lifeguard stand. Photo by Gabriella Howard.
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, … and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
Erica reflected on how God abundantly blessed her with the gift for writing music, which she had previously used to promote spiritual darkness. She thanks God for His forgiveness and redemption and now uses this gift for His glory. She enthused, “I am so blessed to be crushed by the love of Christ; I am invested for life to be His hands, His feet, and His speech in order to encourage and lead people into a life with Him.”
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.
© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.