“Jesus Talk” is emblazoned across his T-shirt.
Thousands of LSU students pass him daily in Free Speech Plaza, where the rules are simple: Say whatever you want, however you want to say it.
Political groups stand by colorful tri-fold boards. Volunteer groups lure students with free coozies, pens and T-shirts. Planned Parenthood offers free condoms. Students for Life hands out flyers. The occasional traveling preacher and his uniformed family shout threats of hellfire.
But Jesus Talk — as one man’s commonly known by students — is different.
He sits stoically at the end of the alley on a cushioned, fold-up, metal chair and speaks only when spoken to.
His chair faces a matching seat with a laminated paper bearing the words, “Prayer requests questions?? Email: email@example.com”.
Sometimes, his bespectacled eyes dart across newspapers and books. His wrinkled hands swim through puzzles. Relaxed in his open-air office, he prays and observes the young adults chatting, texting and darting in and out of the shade of the stately oaks.
But most of the time, Ivan Imes talks about Jesus.
“The key is, I never approach anybody,” Imes said. “They have to approach me.”
This is Imes’ seventh year wearing the “Jesus Talk” shirt. He visits the LSU campus four or five days a week, normally from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. but depending on students’ needs, he has stayed as late as 6 p.m.
Imes became a believer on his 52nd Valentine’s Day.
Divorced, he was invited to a dinner for single Christians at Parkview Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.
His now-wife Patricia was in the group.
“The thing that attracted me was that they had all the problems that I had, but none of them seemed to be as frustrated or angry as I was,” Imes said.
It was on the holiday for love that Imes asked for God’s love.
“I don’t know what these people have, but what they have, I need,” Imes prayed.
Imes said two days later on the Atchafalaya Basin bridge, he heard God tell him four things: “Your sins are forgiven. You’re washed in the blood. The scales will fall from your eyes. This is the still, small voice.”
Since Imes hadn’t been educated about Christianity since childhood Sunday school, he spent the next year studying the Bible and other spiritual books.
He retired from his business of engineering, and now works for Jesus.
Imes said he “raised three boys without the Lord” and wanted to make up to God for the years he lost.
“After I became a Christian, I was under a heavy conviction that I missed doing for them what a parent is supposed to do,” he said.
In the Bible, he came across Joel 2:25, which says that God will restore the years that bugs have eaten.
“I asked God, ‘How are you going to redeem this time?’” he said.
Imes said God answered his prayer at The Chapel off LSU’s campus.
“He would give me 30,000 people to redeem. Instead of being able to redeem the time for my kids, I was able to redeem it for my time at LSU,” Imes said. “He said you talk to them about Jesus. OK, ‘Jesus Talk,’ I’ll put that on a shirt.”
Joseph Lafield, a Christian social worker and Imes’ prayer partner, said Imes is the “right kind of person” to do the Jesus Talk ministry.
“After he told me about it, it seemed so simple and useful, I’m surprised that no one else has had the idea before,” Lafield said.
Imes never preaches, shouts or approaches others. He just sits and waits wearing the shirt that bears the same message: Jesus Talk.
“If people are drawn to that, and they are asking, seeking or knocking, they are fulfilling the Word of God. If the Word of God is fulfilled, it is living and acting,” he said.
In part of his preparation for Jesus Talk, Imes studied many Christian denominations so he would be prepared to use different verbiage. Baptists, he said, want to talk about their relationship with Christ. Catholics, on the other hand, are more inclined to talk about good works.
Imes said he is not a member of any church but the Lord’s though he regularly attends Baton Rouge Vineyard Church, a nondenominational church.
The Rev. Jon Maurer said Imes takes a risk of being judged by students, but God works when believers step out of their comfort zone.
“As people step out and take that risk, God can show up and work in all kinds of different ways,” Maurer said.
Maurer said Imes’ ministry works because he does not approach others.
“So many people have been preached at, but when was the last time someone listened?” Maurer said. “He’s willing to hear and be present.”
Lafield said that college students feel at ease with Imes partly because of his appearance.
“He’s tall and he’s gray-headed, and he just has a distinguished appearance, as if he were a successful, retired business owner, which he is,” Lafield said.
Normally, six or eight students stop by daily, and they sit and talk about Jesus with Imes.
About half are regulars, and he knows them by name.
Don Denwald, a senior, called Imes’ phone when Imes retreated inside the Student Union on a breezy, chilly day.
Freshman Nathaniel Hearn brought a newcomer, to visit.
“Hi, I’m Ivan,” Imes said, sticking out a hand.