Barbara Riggenbach is a mom with three children in District 150 schools, and she wants you to pray for them. And for the other pupils, and the teachers, parents and administrators.

Barbara Riggenbach is a mom with three children in District 150 schools, and she wants you to pray for them.

And for the other pupils, and the teachers, parents and administrators.

"I feel like God gave me the burden to help District 150, and there's not much I can do now except to pray," she said Tuesday.

Riggenbach, the Peoria Prayer Furnace, Moms in Touch International and Riverside Community Church are inviting Peoria churchgoers and church leaders to a 7 p.m. Thursday service at Riverside, 207 NE Monroe, Peoria, to pray with them.

But the Switzerland native transplanted to Peoria doesn't want it to stop there.

For one thing, she wants to have another such service in January and a third at the end of the school year.

Riggenbach and the others also are hoping that a group of praying mothers will form for every District 150 school and that every school will be adopted by at least one church. Such adoption would not only include keeping the school in prayer or offering tutoring services, but getting members' hands literally dirty, maybe by cleaning the school, Riggenbach said.

Long a member of Moms in Touch, the goal of which is to have a group of Christian moms praying for each school in a district, Riggenbach got her idea for the event after reading "The Externally Focused Church" by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson as well as the first four chapters of the book of Nehemiah. The third chapter of that account talks about how residents of Jerusalem rebuilt the section of the city's wall that was in front of their own home.

If churches similarly take responsibility for the schools near them, it'll make a difference in the quality of the schools as well as the children's lives, she said.

Riggenbach and the Rev. John King, senior pastor at Riverside, said District 150 schools need prayer for pupil safety to and from school, teachers being able to meet the learning needs of each child, "balanced" classroom behavior that will enhance a learning environment, "desperately needed" resources and wisdom for administrators.

Riverside is known for its support of teachers and District 150. It recently had its annual Sunday service honoring more than 100 teachers of all types and levels.

"We know we can't take prayer into the schools, but we can pray for the schools," King said.

But why, with all of the criticism aimed by Christians at public school systems, would Riggenbach want to find ways to support District 150?

"We have been asked that many times," Riggenbach said. "My husband and I feel strongly that if more families would stay in the district and get involved, it would change a lot. But some families just move out because they don't feel safe anymore."

Bruce Dow of Peoria Prayer Furnace hasn't pulled his kids out of public school. One of his daughters graduated from Manual High School and another attends there.

"We've had a wonderful experience," Dow said. "Our daughter got a full-ride, academic scholarship (to Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville) based on excellent teachers she had at Manual and the preparation she had."

Riggenbach said the best way for Christians to have an impact on a school, besides praying, is to get involved.

"Go to the principal. Ask, 'What can I do?' There's plenty of things for us to do."

One of those things, though, is not openly evangelizing, Riggenbach said. She said religious instruction should be kept out of public schools.

"I want to watch over what my kids learn biblically," Riggenbach said. "If we open that up, then we open it up for all the other kinds of religion.

"If you want to influence (pupils), go to school, be Jesus to them. If we live it, that makes the difference."

Michael Miller covers religion for the Journal Star. Write to him in care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call him at 686-3106, or send e-mail to mmiller@pjstar.com. Comments may be published.