The Last Mile

The ‘last mile’ is a phrase widely used in the telecommunications industry, the industry in which I make my living. It refers to the final leg of the network that delivers services to customers; that portion of the network that physically reaches the end-user’s premises.

The last mile is typically the speed bottleneck in communication networks; its capability effectively limits the amount of data being delivered to the end customer. These final mile links are the most numerous, most expensive, and the most difficult to upgrade. They are also the most critical to delivering the results we expect. A core network with the latest technology and fiber optic cabling means little if the final component of the network is leftover copper technology from 40 years ago.

In recent years, usage of the term “last mile” has expanded outside the communications industries, to include other distribution networks that deliver goods and services to customers, such as the pipes that deliver water and natural gas to customer premises, and the final legs of mail and package delivery services. One area of the supply chain that remains comparatively inefficient is the “last-mile” of business-to-consumer transactions i.e. transportation to the customer’s door, with estimates showing that this final leg of delivery can comprise upwards of 30% of a product’s total transportation costs.

These inefficiencies are predominately due to a multitude of small deliveries over a wide area at differing times making it hard to achieve economies of scale. Add to that, customer demands are increasing; with the expectation that delivery is immediate and at minimal cost.

The term has also been used to describe education and training providers that more tightly link individuals with job opportunities. For example, ‘The Last Mile’ is a program for prisoners at the San Quentin State Prison to help them build relevant skills so that they can more easily transition to productive employment once they are out of prison. The program is an outcome of the number of ‘rehabilitated’ convicts not being able to reestablish themselves in society and either return to prison or worse, commit suicide – a costly (economical, spiritual, societal) last mile.

This blog idea started while listening to a TED talk by Sendhil Mullainathan on India and its crisis with infant deaths due to severe diarrhea. Considerable time and money was spent by the Government on technology and developing a solution to the crisis. Yet when that solution was put forward to the people, it wasn’t adopted. There had been no time and money spent on education and information around the remedy. The ‘societal’ last mile in this process was ignored.

The origin of the phrase ‘last mile’ came to mean ‘a final period of difficulty, cost or suffering.’ The source of the metaphor could have been taken from the tradition among religious walking the ‘last mile’ of their pilgrimage barefoot to show their humility and devotion by increasing their suffering and hardship as they approached the destination of their journey.

Our Christian last mile is the opportunity to connect with everyday people, everyday! To model Christ, to witness, and share the Gospel. This ‘last mile’ has many connections that are difficult, numerous and costly in time and effort. The core network has been done and established but like India and infant deaths, without our work in the last mile, there is less adoption and those earlier efforts and costs are wasted. This last mile is critical to deliver the results we need.

St Francis has been inaccurately cited as the source for the phrase, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” While Francis never made that statement, it does reflect something of a Franciscan quality. His actual words were far more nuanced: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

Christians live in the same world as everyone else, the same towns. The same rain falls, and the same sun rises on all of us. We wear the same jeans, work in the same companies, cheer for the same teams, and drink at the same coffee shops as non-Christians. We all are, for the most part, the same physically, but Christians are a unique people because of the way we act. It’s in the significance of our actions that can distinguish us from the world.

Christian standards are higher than the world’s standards. Jesus is saying, “Dig in and give the extra effort.” We believe in Jesus; our struggle is in living out that belief. To conform our will to His will; our actions to His teachings, especially His commandment of love. Jesus touched his disciples by friendship, love and service. We can do the same thing. Love without limits. Serve others.

I love the Christian hymn, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love”, especially the version by ‘Jars of Clay’. The song was inspired by John 13:35, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” and written in the 1960s by the late Fr. Peter Scholtes. It is a phrase that non-believers used to describe Christians believers of early Church.

“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord;

We will work with each other, we will work side by side;

And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride;

Yeah, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

There are 2.2 billion Christians in the world, 240 million in the US. All of us, through baptism and confirmation, have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us. We just need to activate the Holy Spirit in ourselves and be the connection, or last mile, to help activate it in others. Pope John Paull II used the term “New Evangelization” in 1983 to describe the situation where the process of secularization has produced a crisis among the Christian faith and role of the Church. Entire groups of fallen-away Christians have lost a living sense of the faith or live a life far removed from Christ and his Gospel. Blessed John Paul II wanted the faithful to clearly recognize this problem and then try to solve it. What is needed is a ‘new evangelization’ or a ‘re-evangelization’ to those who are already believers but do not recognize the Holy Spirit in their lives.

As this critical ‘last mile’, Christian family and friends can be the difference in transforming this world. Really nothing else is needed. Do God’s will. Love. Serve.

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