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PASTOR Raymond Cotter, who for decades was a mainstay of Newtownards High Street where he managed the Elim Relief charity shop, has retired.

The pastor was tireless in raising money to help the poor and vulnerable in central and southern Africa and he was also admired for his ‘heart for the local community’ of Ards.

On his 21st birthday on August 30, 1972, Mr Cotter was inducted into the Elim ministry to the church in Markethill, and was then in charge of the church in Brookeborough. He settled in Newtownards in 1980 and has been based in the town ever since – 25 years as pastor of Newtownards Elim Church. 

Forty years ago while ministering in Newtownards Mr Cotter established the Elim Relief charity shop in Regent Street. It was so successful that the outlet relocated to larger premises on High Street 15 years ago.

Mr Cotter became the first full-time Irish missions director for the Elim Church in 2005 with responsibility for central and southern Africa. His work centred mostly on Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia.

During his time as Irish missions director 100 churches were built in villages throughout Malawi, most of them in memory of supporters who had died. The Elim missions also built and sponsored three primary schools in Malawi along with seven orphanages each of which is home to 12 children.

In Zimbabwe they support a boarding school for 30 children with impaired hearing and a number of church based projects. Over £500,000 was raised through the Elim Ministries to build a maternity theatre at the Elim hospital in Katare, Zimbabwe. 

Around 50 containers of aid were sent out to Malawi, Zimbabwe and Swaziland during Mr Cotter’s time as Irish missions director and during this time he visited the continent four or five times a year.

In 2016 he gave up the position of Irish missions director and devoted his time to managing the Elim Relief charity shop in the centre of Newtownards. All the money raised in the shop – around £100,000 every year – goes towards supporting the church’s outreach projects in Africa. It helps provide aid to some of the poorest communities in the world and includes supporting orphanages, schools and medical work, and the construction of bore holes to provide fresh water to communities.

To further support the church’s work in Africa, the pastor has taken part in a number of fund raising projects. These include bravely abseiling down Scrabo Tower on three occasions, having his head shaved during the Harvest Fair in Conway Square and having a Boxing Day dip into the sea in Bangor. On one occasion he organised a group of volunteers to pull an ambulance from Newtowards to Comber and back again to buy an ambulance for a project in Zimbabwe. 

To mark 50 years since he left Northern Ireland to study at the Elim bible college in the village of Capel, in Surrey, last year he undertook a 50 mile walk in memory of his younger brother Edwin to raise funds for the building of a church in Zimbabwe in his memory. Edwin Cotter who was senior pastor of Silverdale Elim church at Newcastle-under-Lyme died of Coronavirus in April 2020. 

“I enjoyed my work very much and meeting people who came into the shop,” Mr Cotter said. “People were always very generous and good to us”.

He continued: “People knew where the money was going and trusted us and we were able to raise substantial funds to go towards our missions”.

Strangford MP Jim Shannon, who was first elected onto Ards Borough Council in 1985, built up a close relationship with Mr Cotter over the last four decades often working with him to resolve issues in the community.

“I have admired his work ethic and heart for the local community,” he said. “He was an advocate for helping people through his church ministry”. 

Pastor Cotter, the MP continued, was well known for the charity shop and missionary work, but what wasn’t as well known was the work he did for individual people in the local community over many years. 

“He took a hands-on approach offering practical and spiritual help to those in need who had nowhere else to go,” Mr Shannon continued, explaining that, for instance, Mr Cotter would have supported people who would have found themselves in debt.

“It is a privilege to know and to have worked with him,” the MP concluded.



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