Troy Hartman was sitting in a jail cell 15 years ago, a devastated young man. A New Year’s Eve party welcoming in the year 2000 started out with college friends playing cards and talking about the future. Alcohol was flowing. After they watched on TV as the ball dropped in Times Square, Hartman and his best friend, Matt Jones, hopped into Jones’ Ford Explorer. Hartman took the wheel.
Going too fast on a mountainous southern Missouri road and distracted with changing a CD, Hartman lost control. The SUV flew off the road into a ravine.
Hartman lived. His best friend did not.
“I just immediately felt like that should have been me, not Matt,” Hartman said. “I remember thinking I would never let myself have fun or be happy or have joy or hope again because I don’t deserve it.”
Hartman was charged with involuntary manslaughter and drunk driving. He was honest with law enforcement about what happened. A short time later, police called Charles and Mary Jones with the awful news that their son was dead. Mary Jones was devastated. But as a Christian, she knew she had a choice to make about how to face life in the midst of tragedy. She prayed with her family.
“I know as the mother of the family that I set a tone, so I wanted to make a choice where I help my children deal also with the loss and the grief. And I know I had to deal with it myself, but I wanted to deal with it in a way that showed that I really did entrust it to God,” Jones said.
Even as the Jones family grappled with their grief, Hartman knew he needed to contact them.
“I wanted to reach out and connect, but I didn’t know how to do that or what to say,” Hartman said. But Mary Jones already was thinking about that.
“Even though I had never met Troy, I knew that Matt loved Troy, too, that he was Matt’s friend. So I thought, I really did want to reach out to Troy because of what Matt would have wanted me to do. And that gave me peace by doing that,” she said. So she tracked down Hartman’s phone number and called. The first thing she said to him was, “I love you and I forgive you.”
“Then we just both wept on the phone for quite some time,” Hartman said.
“To this day I do not understand why I was not angry,” Jones said. “It just shows … that it is from God because he removed all that from me. And all I could do is just reach out for Troy, because I didn’t want to see two tragedies happen from this … already the loss of Matthew, I did not want to see a second man’s life go down also because of this.”
Jones’ forgiveness became Hartman’s spiritual lifeline. He decided to do everything she asked of him. He began attending church.
“I was just a broken boy, but I realized through that Mary was really representing Jesus. And I found out, after attending church for a while, that I wasn’t really responding just for her, that I was responding because God was drawing me to Him,” Hartman said.
Hartman faced possible prison time. But with the help of many, including the Jones family, he received a light sentence of five years probation. Shaken, and looking for answers, he got involved in a church and after that went to seminary, becoming a youth pastor for several years. He stayed in contact with the Jones family, who treated him as one of their own.
Hartman said he hopes the redemption he’s seen in his own life will encourage other people in seemingly hopeless situations to cry out to Jesus.
Mary Jones’ heart still aches for her son Matt, her mind ponders his life and death. But her choice to forgive became an avenue of God’s grace for a young man who today preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mary says the only explanation for Troy Hartman’s healing, and her own, is the resurrection power of God.
“It’s genuine,” she said. “Only God could do that.”
Today, Hartman and his wife, Lacey, have two young daughters—and they’ve recently moved to Kansas, where they are busy planting a church. Hartman gives his testimony at high schools about the power of love and forgiveness and about new life in Jesus Christ.
— by Mary Reichard