The Story of the Brigada de Meggan
One small miracle
In August 1998 the Oregon City United Methodist Church sent its first mission group, la Brigada de Meggan y Los Romeritos to Guatemala. Six adults and four teenagers formed the brigade in memory of Meggan Parkinson - Larry and Linda Monk, Helen and Meghan Kelley, Melinda and Ben Beyers, Betty Cobb, Erik Bjorkman, Montana Detweiler, and Lynn DeWeese-Parkinson. When Meggan Parkinson was in Guatemala City in 1995, she had worked with Jaime Marcia to found Los Romeritos a day center for street children in the very poorest and most dangerous part of the city.
Meggan's father Lynn DeWeese-Parkinson went to Guatemala City a week before the rest of the brigade to prepare things and plan activities. About 30 children were at the center Thursday and Friday. The brigade arrived Saturday and spent two days in orientation and tourist activities. They were ready to begin work on Monday morning.
When they arrived at Los Romeritos they found only three children in attendance. They learned that late Friday, after the children returned home from the center, men with guns arrived in panel trucks, saying they were from "Human Rights." They took about 30 children away with them, away from their mothers, including about 25 children from Los Romeritos. A similar incident had occurred a few weeks earlier and the children were never seen again.
The brigade members created a flyer telling mothers what to do if their children were taken. Brigade members locked up their valuables and walked through the neighborhood in this very bad part of Guatemala City talking with the mothers and distributing the flyers. Word soon got around that a bunch of concerned Gringos had arrived right after the incident.
Tuesday, Helen and Meghan Kelley went with one staff member and two of the very bravest mothers to visit every government office and non-government agency that had anything to do with human rights, law enforcement, or children. The five women demanded at each stop that something be done to recover the children. Meanwhile, other brigade members worked at Los Romeritos doing painting, plumbing, carpentry, and setting up a fish tank and garden with turtles for the children. Wednesday a few children were returned. Thursday and Friday, unable to do more, the brigade visited other parts of the country.
Saturday morning when the brigade went back to Los Romeritos to evaluate their work, they found a banner headline in the local paper reported that the national police, who had never acted in one of these cases before, had raided six houses scattered around the city and recovered 39 children. The article told about the marketing of children from Guatemala to the United States and Europe. About 1200 children a year are stolen from Guatemala and sent to Europe and the United States. It is a $15 million a year business with each child fetching a price from $15,000 to $25,000. The business seems to be run by Guatemalan lawyers. They hide the children until papers can be forged showing them to be orphans so they can be adopted out of the country.
If the mission group had arrived even a few days earlier, the incident would have happened after they left and they might never have known about it. If they had arrived a few days later, the children would probably have been removed from the country by the time the group arrived. Some miracle led La Brigada de Meggan to the Los Romeritos center at just the right time.
La Brigada de Meggan y Los Romeritos was a stunning success. Brigade members made the shelter a better place, helped with teacher training, and delivered a lot of financial assistance. They worked and played with some wonderful children and some wonderful mothers. They all learned that brave, caring people could be found anywhere. While it was not what they originally set out to do, they may have saved some children's lives and certainly saved some mothers from a lifetime of anguish. As Melinda Beyers said, "God just used us to do what needed doing."