IT started at school, says Josh Coates, as he looked around at his mates. “I’m scared,” he said quietly to himself. “Is this the start of World War Three?”
It was barely a month ago, and the 13-year-old from Sorell was asking questions about the Ukraine.
It was no idle question; despite his tender years, the student at Eastside Lutheran College has seen much of the world, and volunteered in remote locations from Mongolia and Ethiopia to Bangladesh and the Philippines His mum, Tracey Coates, said: “His generation has the potential to be heroes, to meet the world’s needs right now and Josh has everything inside him.”
His dad, Tim, got a phone call from a friend in Newcastle, NSW, wanting to put together a team to go into Poland and find ways to help those fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The undertaking would be organised through Youth With A Mission (YWAM), an international volunteer movement of Christians that’s been around for 60 years, and which runs training courses for exactly this kind of work at its 200- acre property at Sorell.
“Kids discover purpose, find their own strength and their own gift. We’re unapologetically Christian in our approach,” Mrs Coates said.
Josh took a day or two to make a decision.
“I thought: I want to go, to do this. God wants to me to do this,” he said.
“It was like ‘oh, I’m too busy’ and then ‘we’re leaving in a week.’ Just like that.
“You can’t just turn up in a warzone like Ukraine, of course,” points out his father, who’s undertaken similar humanitarian and medical missions in the past.
“Not only is it unsafe, but you need housing, feeding. You don’t want to be burden, but to assist, to be useful,’’ Mr Back home … Josh and Jim Coates after their humanitarian trip to Poland.
13-year-old Josh sees war’s horror first hand Coates said.
YWAM’s Central European director was already on the job, with teams coming from Norway and the UK, Germany, Spain and the United States.
Those from Australia were largely the Coates family, soon to include Jarryd, Tim’s older stepson.
Tim and Josh flew into Budapest, Hungary.
The decision was made to set up in Rzeszow, Poland, an hour from Ukrainian border, where YWAM already had established a foothold.
“In this city, we were one of a multitude of humanitarian, political and religious groups that are helping the exodus of mostly women, children and the elderly from Ukraine,” Mr Coates said.
“The diversity was striking: Sikhs from India, another active group that called themselves ‘Chinese Against Communism’.
“More, we saw the singularity of purpose,” he said.
“It’s amazing, the collective humanity inspiring. And when all these small organisations do many small things, the sheer weight of numbers really changes the balance.
“And that’s what we see in Josh,” Mrs Coates said.
“A 13-year-old can do things, make a hot drink, give directions, make a difference to someone’s life.
From the Ukrainian side of the border arrived a stream of people displaced by the war, bringing what they can carry.
They were leaving behind husbands and sons to fight the Russians. It’s cold, barely into the single digits.
“We might be providing a tent while they find where they’re going,” Mr Coates said.
“Sometimes they just need food and a drink, somewhere to sit for a while, maybe nappies or rapid antigen tests. Oddly, the thing we ran out of first was shampoo.
“More than that, what we provide is simple kindness, relief, and you can see it in their eyes.”
Three weeks on the job in Rzeszow, Josh and Tim returned to Sorell, Tasmania, late last week.
Their part was voluntary, and the whole thing was done on a budget of $7000, raised through donations.
As more and more organisations join the effort in Poland, it has become clear to Tim that the ad hoc effort requires coordination.
And Tim, whose past work demanded those very skills in transport logistics, was home barely 24 hours before he began to ask himself: what’s next?
“They want me to come back, so I need to give that serious thought.” And it looks like he’ll put together a fully Tasmanian team, and that means Tracey too.
Josh Coates has already told Year 8 he needs some time off.