March 16, 1939 – November 14, 2016
The Vought family, including Naomi and her identical twin sister, Norma, grew up in Barron, Wisconsin, a small town. Naomi taught Sunday school and served as assistant superintendent. She held a variety of local and conference youth offices. The sisters often shared their musical gifts in other churches.
During high school, Naomi worked as a nurse’s aide to test her nursing aptitude. She trained at West Suburban Hospital in Melrose Park, Illinois. Then Naomi attended Greenville College, Illinois, where she graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in nursing in 1964. While always interested in missions, Naomi did not seriously consider serving as a missionary herself until her senior year of college. Naomi returned to West Suburban Hospital, serving as head nurse on the medical floor before her appointment to Southern Africa.
In November 1966, Naomi wrote a letter explaining why she chose to live 9,000 miles away from family, “As I walked back from the hospital I stopped … and just stood and looked up at the star-filled sky and listened to the sounds of the beautiful African night … I could hear the cry of children as they were being put to sleep … and dogs barking … drums and singing and dancing over behind some of the hills … There was the hospital behind me – about 65 patients, some with TB, some with malnutrition, children with severe burns on their bodies because they have fallen into the open fire in the middle of their huts. Over a third of our patients are children.
“As I stood there … the drums and dancing reminded me of the reason I am here – to bring the light of the gospel to these who know not of the love of God; the hospital reminded me of nursing which I love … And I was reminded of the wisdom … and great love of our God – for me and all men. God has been good to me!”
Serving as a teacher, supervisor and participating in the educational program for student nurses at Greenville Hospital, Naomi learned to speak Zulu and Xhosa fluently. Many students made their first visit to a modern hospital when they arrived for studies at Greenville. At the completion of their training, they were qualified to serve as assistants to registered nurses. Bible study classes were an important part of the program. Naomi provided students with spiritual counsel, as well as professional training. Naomi believed her one true calling, whether nurse, teacher, musician or youth advisor, was to win people to Jesus Christ.
In 1974, as a result of the hospital coming under state control, only African nationals served on the nursing staff. Naomi returned to a nursing career in the Midwest, blessing her patients with excellent care.
Naomi’s Colleagues Write:
“Naomi Vought was a valued colleague and appreciated asset to our program at Greenville Hospital,” write retired missionaries Dean and Faith Smidderks. “She and Faith enjoyed an extra blessing with identical twin sisters. We look forward to joining her in the Lord’s heavenly presence.”
While his parents served alongside Naomi in Africa, former missionary kid Hendrik Smidderks, now a Free Methodist pastor, remembers, “I wish I had been old enough to appreciate Naomi’s quiet, joyful spirit while she was on the mission field. I was a young, rambunctious boy who was distracted by adventures and games. My memory is that she was always loving and gentle. She did not aggressively insert herself into my life, but patiently and graciously reminded us missionary kids that we were cherished.
“As an adult, I have come to appreciate this kind of Christian love. The world needs more believers like Naomi – gentle, courageous, persistent and merciful.
“I am so thankful to have known Naomi and her twin sister, Norma, as an adult. Naomi’s character and treatment of me did not change in my adult years. Consistent and gentle, she smiled, hugged and gently encouraged. She was a blessing.”
“Naomi was always friendly and jovial,” remembers retired missionary Florence Sayre. “She loved her work among the patients. When we were both retired in Greenville, Illinois, we were able to renew our friendship. We thank God for Naomi, a gentle, loving person, and her ministry as a nurse.”
“‘Unomusa’ was the name the people gave to Naomi,” recall former colleagues Trygvar and Anne-Marie Brauteseth, “‘Unomusa’ means kindness and mercy – a name that described her well!
“Naomi really loved the people she had come to serve. Her compassion and care were deep and unconditional. Quickly she adapted to a new culture, customs and language. Due to her outgoing, friendly ways and her winning smile, she endeared herself to the people, too, and as a result, she learned to speak Zulu with the correct tones and accents. She had an obvious gift for the language!
“It was not easy for Naomi to leave her big extended, close family. Her loneliness was quite acute at times, so she spent more time with her patients. Our home was a home away from home for Naomi, we saw her during her vacation times. It was our joy to have her with us and our children, who loved their Aunt Naomi. Wonderful times of Bible study, prayers and fellowship are memories we have cherished down through the years.
“Professionally, as a nurse, and spiritually, as a leader through whom the fruits of the Spirit of Jesus freely flowed, Naomi’s life made a difference to those around her. She loved Africa; and Africa loved her!
“Former South African Bishop Shembe, when he heard Naomi had left her earthly dwelling place, responded, ‘She has RESTED!’
“One of the songs she loved to sing was the “Joy of the Lord is My Strength” with all the verses. Truly God was her strength and her joy (Nehemiah 8:10b). We rejoice to know that we will meet Naomi again.”
“Naomi was much loved by the people of the Natal Cape Conference in South Africa,” recall former colleagues Ken and Linda Kaufmann. “We arrived at Greenville Hospital two years after she left, but the church people often spoke to us about their wish that she could return to lead youth ministries at a time when there were few pastors.
“Naomi took loving care of many missionary kids who were students at Greenville College. Her tender heart blessed all of us. She had a deep love for the South African people and maintained her fluency in Zulu all of her life. Her sweet spirit poured balm on our nostalgic hurt for South African friends.”