Cyrus Njora’s peasant parents in Ichamara Village of Nyeri County had gone out of their way to ensure their son grew up in a Christian family.
In the year 2000 while in Form Two, Mr Njora was born again but, five years later, he had backslid and turned into a violent robber.
Mr Njora absolves his parents from any blame, saying “my deviation into crime had nothing to do with a poor upbringing but was a simple case of bad company, abhorrence for hard work and greed for fast cash.”
It was a life’s choice that saw him covered by the Daily Nation of November 14, 2008, where he was photographed being rescued by police from a lynch mob near Nairobi’s Hilton Hotel after one of his robbery victims positively identified him.
After evading a police dragnet for two years — during which six of his comrades in crime were shot dead — he was jailed for 22 years. While in prison, he learnt theology and would preach to fellow inmates. This saw him win back his freedom in a 2018 sentence and conviction appeal having served 10 years.
“When you see me here, I am a bold testimony that poor choice of friends is dangerous. Crime does not pay and the fear of God is the greatest reprieve one can ever win,” he says.
He confesses that he was a member of a car theft syndicate that sold stolen parts in Tanzania. He says he started by selling off cars that he rented from car hire firms and graduated into robbing motorists of their cars at gunpoint.
"We targeted high-end cars but, once delivered to the buying racketeers in the bush in Tanzania, they all had a flat rate value of Sh300,000," he reveals.
Mr Njora says that for the two years he was in this crime, his gang stole more than 100 vehicles, earning them more than Sh30 million.
He lived large. But when he was arrested and eventually jailed, even if he had been asked to buy his freedom with just Sh5,000, he could not raise it.
"That was me: Illicitly rich today, destitute tomorrow. After my 10 years in jail, I came out of the prison gates worth zero shillings — come easy go easy proved to be so true," he laments.
His greatest conquest in crime, he remembers, was the thrill of stuffing more than Sh100,000 in his pockets and hitting the town to make merry by eating nyama choma, drinking copious amounts of alcohol and having illicit sex.
After studying theology to a higher diploma level while serving his sentence, Mr Njora is now a pastor at the Maximum Miracle Centre Church.
He also runs rehabilitation programmes for young criminals and substance addicts.
So far, 62 boys and two girls have successfully undergone rehabilitation programmes.
Bishop Pius Muiru, who is the leader of the Maximum Miracle Centre, terms Mr Njora "a young man with a rich history and testimony of how God preserves chosen ones”.
Former Central Division police boss Richard Mugwai termed Mr Njora "a good man who made a terrible choice to join crime”.
“He survived our action plan in a miraculous way but, later in life, he learned the hard way that all negative actions, utterances and thoughts in life have a corresponding negative price to pay," he said.
Having renewed his relationship with God as a born-again Christian in 2009, Mr Njora says he is lucky to be alive.
Born in 1985, Njora went to Kihate Primary School and later Tambaya Secondary School, where he scored a ''C'' plain in 2002.
“Owing to poverty in our family, expecting my parents to continue toiling for my tertiary education fees was too much and I felt I owed them some relief by venturing out to eke out a living. They paid for a driving course. As I left home on February 10, 2003, my parents, through prayer, asked God to be my keeper. They counselled me to be wary of three enemies — bad company, reckless lifestyle and abandoning God,” he remembers.
It was a young and robust Njora who, in the company of a male villagemate who had established a base in Nairobi’s River Road as a music sales agent, joined the capital city population and immediately got a job as a salesman.
“I would be given musical cassettes to sell. Albums were selling like hot cake and i would close the day with at least Sh1,000 as net profit. Buoyed by my parents’ advice, I saved hard and sent them monetary support. By 2005, I had established my own music shop and my future looked very promising,” he says.
His life changed on February 10, 2006 — exactly the third year since he left the village for the capital city — when a daughter of a senior police officer lost her laptop in his music shop.
“It was a pure case of a mix-up. A male student had left his bag in my shop, and so had the policeman's daughter. The bags were identical. When the boy came for his bag, I gave him the one belonging to the girl. His had three textbooks and he took off with the one containing the laptop. He disappeared and left me to carry the cross,” he says.
Mr Njora says the senior officer accompanied by his daughter pulled up outside his music shop at around 2pm and by 3pm he was in court charged with the theft of a laptop.
He denied the charge and was remanded with the option of paying a Sh100,000 bond to secure his freedom, which he could not raise.
After three weeks in remand, two youngsters were brought in. Mr Njora remembers them as Kevoh and Njoroge, both from his village.
“They told me I was familiar to them since they were regulars on Accra Road where I had my shop. They asked what had brought me to prison and I told them. They asked me for my case number and the court. The two spent two days in remand and were released. A week later, they came to see me in remand. They told me I would be presented in court the following day and their advice was I change my plea to guilty and everything else will be okay,” he says.
He did exactly that and he was set free.
Enter Kevoh and Njoroge into Mr Njora's life and everything changed.
The two were armed robbers who indoctrinated him into the vice that saw him join the club of millionaires, abandon his Christian values, and betray his parents’ wise counsel about how to behave while away from home.
With a fake identity card and a driving licence, they would hire cars and sell them off in Tanzania.
He later graduated into robbing people at gunpoint as well as kidnapping victims, an enterprise that saw Kevoh and Njoroge gunned down in November 2007.
Mr Njora reassembled a gang of five and continued the criminal network, which ended with all his four new colleagues gunned down.
Mr Njora had been urgently called home to take his son to hospital and that is when the other four met their fate.
An instinct had seen him fail to join them at a pub in Nairobi’s Tea Room where they were arrested.
On November 13, 2008, he was on his way to scout for a car to steal outside the Hilton Hotel. He was driving another stolen car.
“A woman appeared from nowhere; she was screaming and pointing at me. I instantly recognised her as one of my many robbery victims. I attempted to reverse and I hit the car that was behind me. I tried to drive forward and I hit the one that was ahead of me. A mob came, fished me out of the vehicle and gave me a bad beating. They placed a tyre on my neck and were going to burn me alive when a woman trader protested that I should be burnt far from her stall. Gunshots rent the air and police officers surrounded me. I saw God. It was so relieving to be arrested,” he says.
It is after that scary encounter that Mr Njora was jailed for 22 years.
Today, a husband and a father of two, he says his objective in life is to spread the gospel of keeping firmly to the straight and narrow.